You are here

detention

Somali Refugees Beaten by ICE Speak Out

As an update to our previous story, “LaSalle Guards Beat, Pepper Sprayed African Asylum Seekers,” The Intercept reported on the grave abuses suffered by 30 Somali refugees through the story of one of the survivors, Guled Muhumed, this month. Muhumed had spent six months in ICE custody in eleven different facilities. He arrived to the West Texas Detention Facility, operated by LaSalle Corrections, on February 23.

The article described his arrival: “For Muhumed and the others, the apparent threat they posed in the eyes of detention center officials translated to being housed in moldy cells, cut off from other detainees, where the heavy smell of pepper spray lingered. ‘We didn’t go outside until maybe, like, five days into our stay,’ Muhumed said. ‘I started noticing everyone else was getting sick.”’

Muhumed was deported back to Somalia on early Thursday morning, March 29. He and the other thirty men spoke out prior to their deportation. “Their testimonials were compiled in a 23-page report that painted a profoundly disturbing picture of ICE contractors drunk on power. All of the men reported having been pepper-sprayed during their week in detention, and nearly half described physical abuse. One of the men claimed the warden of the facility punched him in the face repeatedly while he was in the nurse’s office. Another said guards repeatedly fondled his penis while he was pushed up against a wall.”

Following the incident, the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board wrote an editorial on March 28, “Brutal conditions must be investigated.” Critiquing the private prison industry, the editorial team wrote:

“Running prisons — or immigrant centers — for private profit will, in our view, inevitably lead to cutting corners and unfair treatment. If these allegations are proven true, the decision to continue prisons for profit should be re-examined and the private contract in Sierra Blanca canceled. In fact, private prisons warrant examination even if the allegations aren’t borne out.”

Tags: 

Freezing Overnight Temperatures at Brooks County Detention Center

During a bitter cold spell in Texas, prisoners at Brooks County Detention Center lacked heating in the first days of the new year. According to KRGV, the conditions at the facility “are improving” after the facility lacked heat and blasted air conditioning instead. The facility, operated by GEO Group, detains immigrants under custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service.

“People are walking around with boxes on their heads, socks on their arms just trying to keep themselves warm. We don't have no sweaters,” a detainee told KRGV. The article also stated that some people refused to eat because the cafeteria further exposed people to the cold, though ICE would not comment on the hunger strike. 

Image Source

The U.S. Marshals Service issued the following comment: "Some inmates had expressed grievances about the temperatures by refusing to eat breakfast Wednesday morning. The facility confirms all inmates are safe and eating their issued meals." 

This news comes at the heels of Hurricane Harvey, when media could not confirm that the facility evacuated detainees in the path of the storm. Rep. Lloyd Doggett has since filed an inquiry with the Bureau of Prisons about the treatment of prisoners in Texas following the hurricane.

Blogging Categories: 

Guards Charged by Federal Agencies for Smuggling Contraband in San Antonio Prison

News broke in late December that guards from a privately run San Antonio federal prison is under investigation by the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration for contraband and drug smuggling. The San Antonio Express News reported that two guards of the Central Texas Detention Facility were indicted by both agencies for smuggling drugs to inmates. “The jail, which is run by the GEO Group of Florida, has had a rash of contraband in recent years that includes cellphones, drugs and other prohibited items, court records show,” the article states.

The two guards, Abigail Jolynn Abrego and Jewel Roberto Jefferson, both pleaded not guilty to the charges. They were indicted with other non-employees, including two prisoners. “According to court records, Abrego and Belmares met Nov. 12 with an undercover FBI agent and agreed that Abrego would smuggle crystal methamphetamine to a GEO inmate in exchange for $1,500,” Express News reported. Jefferson also agreed to smuggle heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine.  

The Central Texas Detention Facility is a Bexar County-owned detention center operated by the GEO Group that primarily incarcerates pre-trial detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service and has also held immigration detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Image Source
This is not the first case of smuggling at the facility, operated by private prison company in GEO Group. In 2011, the parents of Albert Gomez, Jr. sued the facility when their son overdosed of heroin smuggled into the prison. In December 2016, a grand jury indicted GEO Group employee Ray Alexander Barr of providing methamphetamine and alcohol to prisoners.

Report Exposes Treatment of Asylum Seekers Denied Parole in Texas

Photo from Flickr

 

Human Rights First published a timely report, “Judge and Jailer: Asylum Seekers Denied Parole in Wake of Trump Executive Order,” that exposes the Trump administration’s lengthened detention of asylum seekers following the Executive Order issued on January 25. The research names South Texas as an area where ICE rarely, if ever, grants parole to asylum seekers who meet the criteria of the 2009 ICE Asylum Parole Directive.

The report includes an excerpt from Martín Méndez Pineda’s article in the Washington Post from May 25, 2017 detailing his experience in detention:

“From the first day I crossed the border heading north, I saw discrimination, abuse and humiliation. They transferred me to a privately run detention center called West Texas Detention Facility in the city of Sierra Blanca. There, I experienced the worst days of my life. It is known by the detainees as ‘el gallinero’ (‘the henhouse’), because the barracks resemble a stable for livestock. It was designed for about 60 people but houses more than 100, who are exposed to all kinds of diseases and don’t have access to adequate medical attention. The henhouse of Sierra Blanca is small, with metal bunks, worn-out rubber mattresses, wooden floors, bathrooms with the walls covered in green and yellow mold, weeds everywhere, and snakes and rats that come in the night. The guards look at the detainees with disgust, and everything we say to them is ignored. Honestly, it is hell.”

The report also uncovers that asylum seekers have been denied parole to keep bed spaces filled, while others are granted asylum when space is needed. For example, at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas owned by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), women who met the criteria for parole have generally been denied release. The research shows this trend changed according to capacity: “Then pro bono attorneys learned that arriving asylum seekers who had passed credible fear screenings were suddenly receiving parole assessments and in some cases were released from detention. This aberration appeared to coincide with an increase in the number of women sent to the facility, suggesting that the parole grants may have been prompted by a need to free up bed space at the facility.”

 

Photo credit from Flickr

Blogging Categories: 

Sen. John Whitmire warns small TX town against building new private lockup

Senator John Whitmire, D-Houston, sent a warning to city officials in Shepherd, TX after they voted in favor of contracting with private corrections company, Emerald Correctional Management LLC, to build a new lockup for immigrants awaiting deportation.  

Senator John Whitmire
Senator John Whitmire

Whitmire, Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, sent a two-page letter to the Shepherd Mayor Pro Tem Sherry Roberts to tell her history has shown that partnering with private prison companies to build local lockups is a bad idea. In the letter, Whitmire cited Littlefield and Jones County, both small communities in Texas where partnerships with private companies have gone belly up and left local taxpayers with the burden of paying off the bonds. 

According to reports from the Houston Chronicle, Whitmire's letter stated:

"I hope you are aware that many cities and counties in Texas have gone down the failed path of partnering with private correctional entities to build both prisons and immigration detention facilities."

"Many of these thousands of beds now sit empty, leaving the public partner (city or county) responsible for paying off the debt issued to build the facility."

"Texas has closed three, privately run state jails or prison facilities, while our state inmate population continues to decline," Whitmire said.

"If the expected immigration population dwindles or disappears altogether, the state will have no part in filling the empty beds with state inmates. Again, thousands of beds built through speculation projects now sit empty, with public entities on the hook.

"I understand and appreciate the desire to provide economic development within your community, but gone are the times of using prisons and correctional facilities for that purpose," the senator stated. 

"I am hopeful that you will take under consideration the failed speculative projects elsewhere in Texas and the potentially significant financial liabilities your community would assume if a similar scenario were to play out in Shepherd."

Well said, Senator! Officials in Shepherd did not immediately respond to the Houston Chronicle on this issue. 

 

Blogging Categories: 

Groups working to Fight Private Prison Expansion and Immigrant Detention Host Webinar

This week, Bob and I participated in a webinar hosted by Detention Watch Network and our respective organizations, The Sentencing Project and Grassroots Leadership. The webinar addressed the relationship between for-profit prisons and immigrant detention.  

Cody Mason, with The Sentencing Project, presented on the recent report, Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention, where he discussed the growth in ICE and USMS contract capacity for immigrant detention.  Bob discussed how Operation Streamline is driving growth in immigrant detention through the increased prosecutions of certain federal offenses that have moved immigration policy into the criminal justice system.  Also, Emily Tucker with the Detention Watch Network focused her remarks on the problems with mandatory detention and the unjust federal and state policies that have expanding the government’s authority to detain people.  The call also featured Hope Mustakim of Texas; her husband Nazry immigrated from Singapore several years ago and due to changes in immigration policy was detained in the South Texas Detention Center in 2011.

A few notable facts reported during the webinar are:

  • State and federal prisoners held in private prisons grew 37% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Detainees held in private prisons increased by 259% between 2002 and 2010;
  • Operation Streamline has contributed to immigrant detainees held by USMS increased by 121% 
  • after 2005, despite Border Patrol Apprehensions decreasing by nearly 250%;
  • Operation Streamline has also led to a 136% increase in U.S.C. 1325 (improper entry) prosecutions and 85%; increase in prosecutions for U.S.C. 1326 (reentry of removed Aliens) prosecutions in both the W. Texas and S. Texas Districts;
  • 60% of people in detention are there under mandatory detention laws; and 
  • Obama administration's immigration enforcement policy targets individuals with criminal convictions.

Nearly 200 people registered for the webinar, representing communities of faith, impacted communities, and organizers working towards immigration and criminal justice reform.  Folks can download the webinar here until August 29th. 

Subscribe to detention