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The federal government is looking to increase private prison beds

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to increase the number of beds prisons, reports CNN.

In April, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a notice stating they were looking to increase the number of beds in Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities. These facilities are operated by private prison companies and are used to incarcerate non-citizen immigrants who are mostly convicted of low-level drug offenses or civil immigration offenses. In the U.S. there are 11 such facilities, operated by three private companies: CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. The addition of over 1,500 beds would take the overall population of immigrants in CAR prisons to over 22,000.

This shift is the opposite of what the Obama administration planned for the future of these federal prisons. Last August, then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo stating that the DOJ would begin to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The original goal from the Obama administration was to reduce 7,000 beds by May 1st. That memo and plan was overturned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Yates’ previous memo.

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Family sues GEO Group over wrongful death of man in federal immigrant prison

On March 4, the family of Nestor Garay filed a wrongful death lawsuit alleging that private prison operator GEO Group negligently left Garay in the care of unqualified medical staff who failed to respond properly when Garay suffered a stroke while incarcerated at the Big Springs Correctional Center in June 2014. It took two days after Garay was found moaning and unresponsive in his bed, covered in sweat and urine, for GEO Group to send him to the emergency room in Midland, 40 miles away from the facility, where he eventually died handcuffed to the hospital bed.

GEO Group subcontracts medical care at the facility to Correct Care Solutions (CCS), who had only a Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) on hand the night that Garay suffered his stroke. LVN licenses require only one year of training, so they typically serve as support staff for more highly trained doctors and nurses. That night, the LVN contacted the on-call Physicians Assistant who gave Garay anti-stroke medicine and sent him back to bed rather that ordering him to the emergency room. By morning, Garay’s face was drooping and right arm was contracted and he was ordered to the ER. It took another hour to actually leave the facility.

Doctors who treated Garay say that the window of treatment for the type of stroke he suffered is about 3 hours, so there was little to be done once he arrived at the hospital more than six hours after the initial stroke.

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South Texas officials working to reopen scandal-ridden Willacy County prison

Tent City
Tent City
Willacy officials are working to reopen the troubled Willacy County Correctional Center by winning a new federal, state, or local contract, according to a report by KRGV.

The prison, known as Tent City because of its construction out of Kevlar tents, was destroyed last year after an uprising by immigrant prisoners in protest of conditions at the privately operated facility in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs. The economic ripple effect in the area didn't end there, with job losses in the private and government sectors following the prison closure. 

The facility had been operating under "Criminal Alien Requirement" to incarcerate immigrants for the Bureau of Prisons.  

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Hunger strike and use of solitary confinement reported at the Reeves County Detention Center

Reeves County Detention Center
Reeves County Detention Center
According to News West 9, a hunger strike broke out at the Reeves County Detention Center on March 4. Prisoners and their families say they were put into solitary confinement as retaliation for talking to an attorney.

 

The wife of a prisoner at Reeves said her husband was among those placed in solitary. "They're punishing them. Those who spoke with a lawyer, or were wanting to speak with one, they put them in solitary confinement," she said.

 

William McBride, an attorney who says he had a meeting with 56 prisoners at Reeves on March 2, told News West 9 that prison officials suddenly prevented him from speaking with clients on March 3. McBride says prison officials gave no explanation for why he couldn’t meet with clients.

 

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Complaints over medical care mounting in private immigrant prisons in Texas

Big Spring
Big Spring
Families of prisoners in Big Spring Correctional Center are speaking out over a lack of medical care in the facility. An attorney who filed a lawsuit in Willacy County last month says he plans on filing similar suits over conditions at all five criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons in Texas. News West 9 reports that Attorney William McBride filed a lawsuit against the Willacy County Private Prison after allegations of maltreatment against the immigrants detained there.

Family members of prisoners inside the Big Spring Correctional Center are also claiming that the facility is not giving proper medical care to their loved ones. Big Spring is one of five criminal alien requirement (CAR) private prisons in Texas, and is currently being run by GEO Group.

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Prisoners transferred, county government S&P rating downgraded in the wake of uprising at Willacy County

Prisoners at a "criminal alien requirement" (CAR) prison in Willacy County recently protested conditions and medical care at the facility. The prisoners began protesting by refusing breakfast, but then escalated to setting fire to several of the kevlar tents that make up the housing units. Currently, the 2,900 prisoners have begun to be transferred to other Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities throughout the country. 

Management and Training Corporation, the private corporation that runs the facility, has refused to comment on where the prisoners are being moved, citing safety and security as the main reason for the secrecy. The uprising was not surprising to many advocates of prison and immigration reform. An ACLU report released last year detailed squalid conditions, rampant abuse, and little to no medical care at the facility.

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Immigrant prisoner uprising at Willacy County CAR prison

Last week, up to 2,000 immigrant prisoners staged a two-day riot at a private prison in Raymondville, TX. According to a report by DemocracyNow!, the prisoners were protesting inadequate medical care when they refused to eat breakfast on February 20, seized control of part of the prison, and set fires.

The prison, Willacy County Correctional Center, is owned and operated by the private prison company Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville’s Guantánamo prison. It is also referred to as “tent city” because the majority of the prisoners sleep in large, cramped kevlar tents.

Willacy County Correctional Center

The Raymondville prison is also one of 13 privately operated CAR or “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons. Carl Takei, staff attorney with the ACLU’s national prison project explained:

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ACLU Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) Report: Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility

The fifth and final criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison featured in the ACLU's recent report is Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility. The facility is located in Post, Texas and is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC). Originally built in 1999 and suggested by Judge Giles Dalby, the prison was intended to spur economic growth in the surrounding community. Currently, 1,900 men are incarcerated there. 

The first major finding is that prison staff harasses people incarcerated at Dalby. Emmanuel, a blind man, is regularly harassed by guards in the recreation yard and in the cafeteria line, where a guard shines a barcode scanner in his eyes and laughs. A man who could not walk notified a guard that he could not climb the stairs to his housing unit. As a result, the man was placed in solitary confinement.

The report alleges that racial slurs are also routinely uttered to prisoners. Guards have reportedly used slurs such as "wetback" and "Mexican nigger." Prisoners are also sent to the solitary housing unit (SHU) for not speaking English. Because guards give commands in English, many of the men are not able to follow orders and are punished. Other prisoners claim that they cannot communicate with guards. When the majority of guards need to speak to a Spanish-speaking prisoner, another prisoner is often asked to translate. 

ACLU Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) Report: Big Spring Correctional Center

The Big Spring Correctional Facility is the fourth in a series of five criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons featured in the ACLU's recent report, which covers abuses in such facilities. Big Spring is located in Big Spring, Texas and is operated by the GEO Group through a contract with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). 3,500 people are incarcerated there. 

As with the other facilities covered in their report, the ACLU reports that Big Spring's medical care was insufficient. For example, Luis, who injured his knee when a Border Patrol agent pushed him off a ledge in 2010, only received painkillers at three other facilities before being transferred to Big Spring. When he was interviewed in 2011, he was on crutches and was in visible pain. Experiences like Luis's are common and due to lack of staff, prisoners report that there is only one doctor for the entire facility. Nurses who are over-worked typically provide medical care. Prisoners can wait weeks or months to receive medical care after a nurse's evaluation. Because "sick-call" lines are often long, prisoners sometimes must choose between eating and receiving medical care, which is problematic for prisoners with chronic illness, such as diabetes. Prisoners reported that they think medical personnel are trying their best to help them, but are not able to due to understaffing.

ACLU Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) Report: Willacy County Correctional Center

The Willacy County Detention Facility in Raymondville, Texas is the third criminal alien requirement (CAR) facility covered in the ACLU's recent report about abuses inside such facilities. The prison in Willacy County is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) as per the company's contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). This facility is also known at "Tent City" because detained people actually live in tents. 

The ACLU found that the detained men lived in in extremely tight and unclean quarters which, along with the lack of educational or occupational activities, presents an environment that is not safe for incarcerated people or prison staff. Tensions can, and often do, arise quickly between the detained men, who are bored. Prisoners report that there are 200 beds packed into each Kevlar tent, with only three feet between each bed. There are only five toilets, which are exposed with no walls or curtains, and only eight televisions. Prisoners also reported that spiders and insects come in through holes in the tents and bite them. Uniforms are allegedly washed without detergent and are washed with mops and other cleaning supplies. The men attempt to keep their areas clean with the two ounces of solution allocated to each tent. One prisoner recounted, "They treat us like animals." 

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