In a May 13 court hearing, District Judge Karin Crump heard arguments on whether the state has authority to issue childcare licenses to the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, according to a report from the Austin-American Statesman.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — two detained mothers and advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership — asserted that the prison-like conditions of these family detention centers make them no place for children. Moreover, they argued that the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) cannot rewrite the rules to give itself power to regulate the facilities.
Four detained mothers testified Friday that after fleeing violence in their countries, instead of finding help they now feel incarcerated. They mentioned trouble sleeping because of guards entering their rooms every half hour, being served the same meals repeatedly, and children getting sick from water that tastes like chlorine.
One mother, identified as E.G.S., fleeing sexual violence in El Salvador, told the judge that her daughter had been sexually assaulted by another detained women while at the Karnes family detention camp.
The Austin-American Statesman reports that the Texas attorney general's office, as well as attorneys for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, which operate the Dilley and Karnes family detention camps, argued that licensing the facilities would provide oversight that would enhance the safety of the children detained there. They pointed to the licensing process at Karnes as a success, as five employees were dismissed as a result of background checks conducted during the licensing process.
Pursuing licensing of the detention centers represents a major shift for the agency, which asserted for a decade that it did not have the authority to do so.
District Judge Karin Crump seemed skeptical of the state’s change of heart, asking, “How do you reconcile your own commissioner’s letter … where Commissioner (John) Specia very specifically stated that DFPS doesn’t have jurisdiction to do what you have done?”
Judge Crump extended the temporary restraining order preventing the licensing of the Dilley family detention camp until June 1 when she will hear further evidence in the case. She is now weighing whether to issue a temporary restraining order that would invalidate the new DFPS rule altogether that had allowed the Karnes family detention camp to obtain a license.
On October 29, 2015, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) sealed a $157.5 million deal on a major expansion with its acquistion of Avalon Correctional Services, Inc., a private community corrections company.
Now the nation's oldest and largest for-profit prison corporation will own or operate seven community correctional facilities in Texas: Austin Residential Reentry, Austin Transitional Center, Corpus Christi Transitional Center, Dallas Transitional Center, El Paso Multi-Use Facility, El Paso Transitional Center, and Fort Worth Transitional Center.
On November 5, 2015, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) executives announced their 3rd quarter earnings results, including updates on the company's business in Texas. Check out the latest Texas updates from CCA below. You can find the full transcript here.
Last month, Dallas County Commissioners had a tough decision on their hands. After CCA was expelled in 2013 with the closure of Dawson State Jail in downtown Dallas, the private prison company swooped in to take over a contract that could keep them in town for the next 40 years.
Last year, Dallas County entered into a contract with Lifestyles Management of Avalon Correctional Services to lease ten acres of land and build a 300-bed halfway house. CCA is now taking that contract over in spite of serious concerns raised by Dallas leaders. According to the Dallas Morning News, Commissioner John Wiley Price was “concerned about CCA’s record of prison abuse, riots and poor employee pay.” Unfortunately, Price also felt the county had no way to block it.
The decision was on the agenda at the Dallas County Commissioners meeting on Oct. 20th, but commissioners postponed the vote until Nov. 3rd to further research the deal. In testimony to the commissioners, local advocate, Josh Gravens, expressed concern about the well-being of halfway house residents. Knowing CCA’s history, he questioned whether the company is more interested in helping former inmates or turning a profit. Unfortunately, Dallas County commissioners felt they had no choice, and approved the lease take-over.
In a letter responding to advocates concerns, Commissioner Price revealed how CCA’s tactics backed them into a corner. According to Price, the Dallas County Commissioners, “have no legal means to stop [the contract]” and he encouraged the community to, “let us join in acknowledging the need being filled and lend our voices to the chorus calling on CCA to do better.” His response left many questions unanswered.
Although county commissioners approved the lease, local advocates worked with members of the commission to insert important safeguards into the contract. CCA will be required to provide transportation for residents of the halfway house, CCA cannot expand the facility to more than the originally proposed 300 beds, and CCA is prohibited from using the leased property as anything but a halfway house. Although these provisions are considered a win, close monitoring of CCA’s lease will be required.