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Private prison companies continue to expand under Trump

The private prison business is booming under President Trump, reports the Houston Chronicle.

 

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump promised to crack down on undocumented immigrants in the U.S. In the first three months of Trump's presidency, over 113,000 immigrants were locked up across the country in 180 different facilities. The Houston Chronicle says this is a 10 percent increase from the same time period in 2016. These increases mean big business for CoreCivic and GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies in the U.S.

 

The increase in business revenue comes from the number of individuals detained, and also from the length of time they are detained. In most cases, private prison companies are paid on a per diem rate per prisoner, meaning the longer they are detained the more money private prisons companies make.

 

This will have a large impact in Texas. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) works with at least 25 facilities in the state, which hold about one third of the nation's ICE prisoners. Texas already has more privately run prisons than any other state, and is expecting to see that number grow. ICE already awarded a contract to GEO Group to construct and operate a new $100 million immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas. Residents of Conroe are unhappy with the contract, and have been protesting what will become the largest immigrant detention center once it is constructed.

 

As shown by the residents of Conroe, private prisons are not welcome in our communities and should not be built or used. When will the government listen to the voices of the people?

Are detention facilities residences? Texas judge says no, demands GEO pay up on extra taxes.

A lawsuit by a private prison company seeking a refund of sales tax has been denied, according to documents from the Third District of the Texas Court of Appeals.

 

The GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S., filed a lawsuit against Glenn Hegar, Comptroller of Public Accounts for the State of Texas, and Ken Paxton, the state Attorney General. The lawsuit was seeking a refund of sales tax on gas and electricity used in GEO's detention facilities. GEO Group said it was entitled to the sales tax exemption for residential use under a specific section of the State Tax Code.

 

Following an audit, the Comptroller found that GEO needed to pay additional sales and use tax for the period of May 1, 2001, to April 30, 2005, due to a disagreement on the GEO facilities being residential and therefore tax exempt. GEO paid the extra funds under protest. They then filed the suit against the Comptroller after he denied their request to refund the amounts paid. GEO sought $1,367,377.14 plus interest as their refund.

 

The GEO Group said they fell under the residential tax exemption because the prisoners resided in their detention facilities, therefore making them residences. They also argued that owners of each facility, whether GEO Group or a government body, used the gas or electricity, which satisfies the requirement that it is used by the owner.

 

The Comptroller argued that a prison cannot be labeled as a residence because, "while a home is one’s castle, a prison is a cage. The Comptroller also asserts that because the prisoners have none of the fundamental rights or attributes that non-prisoners have in their homes, they do not occupy the facilities 'as a home or residence.'"

 

The court agreed that GEO did not establish that it was eligible for the residential sales tax, and that the Comptroller was correct in requiring them to pay the extra sales and use tax.

GEO Group awarded contract for new immigrant detention center in Texas

The GEO Group released a press release today stating that the company had been awarded a contract for a new 1,000 bed detention center in Conroe, Texas.

The GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the U.S., has been awarded the contract by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The facility is expected to cost over $100 million. GEO will design, finance, construct, and operate the facility for ICE. Including renewal options, the contract between ICE and GEO is a ten-year contract, and is expected to generate $44 million in annual revenue for the company. GEO is planning on having the facility completed by late 2018.

The GEO Group has been contracting with ICE since the 1980s.  GEO’s facilities are used to detain both undocumented immigrants and federal prisoners. Their facilities have a troubling history of issues, including sexual abuse of youths, prisoner suicide attempts, and prisoners escaping.  There have also been multiple cases of employees of GEO being charged with smuggling contraband into the facilities.  

Guard at San Antonio detention center admits to sexually assaulting inmate

A guard from a private prison in San Antonio pled guilty to sexually abusing a prisoner, reports the San Antonio Current.

Barbara Jean Goodwin was a guard at the Central Texas Detention Facility, a private prison for immigrants in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. The detention center is operated by for-profit company GEO Group. Testimony from her victim and other detainees stated she forcibly performed oral sex on a prisoner over 30 times over a six month period. Goodwin now faces up to 15 years in federal prison.

GEO Group, the company that operates the Central Texas Detention Facility, is one of the largest for-profit prison companies in the U.S. It operates multiple facilities in Texas, with a history of abuse and prison riots due to deaths of prisoners. It is also not the first time that GEO employees have been charged with crimes. GEO employees have been arrested for burglary and smuggling in contraband.

 

Private prison companies are paid for family detention centers whether beds are filled or not

Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) will receive payment from the federal government from their 2,400-bed family detention center regardless of how many beds are filled, according to The Washington Post.

Due to the high number of migrants crossing the border from Central American countries, the Obama administration agreed to a deal with CCA in a four-year, $1 billion contract to run the South Texas Residential Facility in Dilley, Texas. Typically,  contracts between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private corporations have the payout based on the percentage of beds filled.

ICE spokesperson Jennifer Elzea said that the contract is “unique” in its payment because they pay "a fixed monthly fee for use of the entire facility regardless of the number of residents."

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House of Representatives' Immigration and Border Subcommittee, said "for the most part, what I see is a very expensive incarceration scheme. It's costly to the taxpayers and achieves almost nothing, other than trauma to already traumatized individuals."

Elzea also told The Washington Post that the Karnes County Residential Center, operated by GEO Group, is under a contract with a similar pay structure, where it will receive full payment regardless of the number of beds filled.

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Texas grants child care license to Karnes family detention center

On Friday April 29, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) granted a license to the Karnes County Residential Center, a federal detention center for mothers and children operated by for-profit prison corporation GEO Group.

The Department of Homeland Security has been pursuing state licenses for the family detention centers in Karnes and Dilley since a federal ruling in August mandated that the children be released within two months from the facilities because they violated the terms of the Flores settlement, which stipulates that children in custody of federal immigration officials may not be held in secure, unlicensed facilities.

Texas’ decision to license the Karnes family detention center was accompanied by an outcry from immigrant rights advocates, who have turned out in force at several public hearings to oppose granting child care licenses to the detention centers.

Jonathan Ryan, executive director of San Antonio legal services provider RAICES, told the New York Times, “If you want a child care facility, you don’t contract with a for-profit prison company.”

Patrick Crimmins, a spokesperson for DFPS, said that the temporary license is valid for six months. During this time, the agency will conduct three unannounced inspections of the detention center, and grant a permanent license if the facility meets required standards.

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ICE’s alternatives to detention still benefit for-profit prison companies like GEO

A recent NPR story, As Asylum Seekers Swap Prison Beds For Ankle Bracelets, Same Firm Profits, shed light on a new profiteering industry for private prison companies, community detention. No stranger to Texas Prison Bid’ness, GEO Group is one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. and operates 15 federal migrant detention centers, many of which detain children and families. In a new kind of federal surveillance, families are being released from these facilities, but are required to wear tracking devices and remain closely monitored. Who is conveniently positioned to provide the tracking devices and community supervision? Geo Care, a subsidiary of GEO Group.


Geo Care received a $56 million contract to provide ankle monitoring services for 10,000 migrants and telephone check-ins for 20,000 migrants. In addition, in September ICE awarded Geo Care an $11 million contract to provide case management services to migrants who have been released.


ICE clarified why Geo Care was selected to run the program instead of a social service entity usually responsible for case management.  "...We really aim to ensure that there's a wide variety of different tools that we can use for compliance,"  says ICE assistant director Lorenzen-Strait. Disturbingly, the manager for Geo Care's new Family Case Management Program is a former top official in ICE's Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations.


Job descriptions of GEO Family Case Managers and Sr. Case Managers confirm ICE’s intent. It is clear that first and foremost, “case managers” are community detention officers, whose primary role is to monitor the lives of released migrants. Job description duties include:


“Conducts regular and on-going monitoring of family participants through in-person check-ins (e.g., home or office visits) and telephonic reporting. At a minimum, check-ins must be done prior to any appointment, hearing, or other immigration required obligation. Conducts additional check-ins as needed to promote compliance with immigration requirements.”


Although alternatives to detention offer opportunities for families to be released, this “freedom” comes with continued surveillance and control, and private prison companies continue to make millions.

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Congressional delegation to visit Texas family detention centers

Congressional Democrats announce their tour of two Texas family detention centers
Congressional Democrats announce their tour of two Texas family detention centers
On Monday June 22 and Tuesday June 23, eight Democratic House members will visit two Texas family detention centers, the GEO-operated Karnes County Residential Center outside of San Antonio, and CCA-operated South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. The House members announced their trip and expressed concern over the Obama Administration's family detention policy in a press conference held last Thursday.

"It is not illegal to apply for asylum. It is the law of the land," said Rep. Gutierrez.

"Detaining children puts them at risk of mental and developmental problems," said Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer. "The people in these detention centers are...the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free of which Emma Lazarus spoke and which is emblazoned on our Statue of Liberty."

 

The members who will be touring the detention centers are: Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-05), Rep. Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27), Rep. Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (IL-04), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40). They are among the 136 House Democrats who signed a letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for an end to family detention. 

 

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Negotiations extended in Flores settlement, which could impact family detention policy

Negotiations based on this 1997 settlement are still underway.
Negotiations based on this 1997 settlement are still underway.

Negotiations between immigrant rights and government attorneys have been extended for another week in what been known as "the Flores case" after parties were unable to reach an agreement based on Judge Dolly Gee's preliminary decision.

As previously reported, some advocates believe that this litigation could cause dramatic changes to, or even end, the government's current policy of detaining asylum-seeking mothers and children while their cases proceed through immigration courts.

The outcome of these negotiations could determine the future of three family detention facilities, which together have the capacity to detain more than 3,000 individuals. These include two for-profit facilities in Texas: the Karnes County Residential Center run by the GEO Group, and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley run by Corrections Corporation of America.

The new deadline set for reporting on the Flores Settlement negotiations is July 3.

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Immigrant denounces alleged rape at Joe Corley Detention Center

Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.

Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."

Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.

While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.

Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation. 

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