Family detention will return to Texas with the announcement that the Karnes County Civil Detention Center will be used to detain families and children who are seeking refuge at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Houston Chronicle reports that ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said the agency plans to start housing women and children at the center as soon as August.
Linda Brandmiller, a San Antonio immigration attorney, told the Houston Chronicle that Karnes as a "detention center with a smiley face. From the outside, it looks like a high school. It doesn't have the same prison-like exterior that most detention facilities have.
"But make no mistake, it is a prison."
Grassroots Leadership denounced the plans in a statement that reads in part:
The last time family detention was used in Texas, it became a national embarrassment as children and babies detained at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.
“Given ICE’s shameful record of detaining immigrant families at the for-profit T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center, returning to mass family detention and deportation is a giant step backwards,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “The experience at Hutto was abysmal, and we shouldn’t allow the return of such treatment of asylum-seeking families.”
The Hutto Detention Center was also operated by a for-profit private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, and was subject to a lawsuit by the ACLU and the University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic contending that conditions at the facility violated minimum standards of care for detained children.
The Karnes center, opened in 2012 and operated by GEO Group Inc., will house up to 532 detainees.
U.S. Congressman John Culbertson said in a budget hearing that Texas has had a "very successful prison industry."
Culbertson also opined that that Texas has had "Great success...using private contractors" and that those contractors "operate at a significant savings to taxpayers." He also claimed that private facilities provided better food and services overall, and are liable for any issues that may arise.
Texas Prison Bidness, however, has reported several counter-examples of the "great success" portrayed in the recent BOP budget hearing:
The Corrections Corporation of America's witholding information regarding deaths at the Dawson State Jail, where a baby girl died prematurely after no medical personnel were assigned to oversee her mother's care;
The repeated sexual abuse and unsanitary living conditions reported at the Texas Youth Commission's Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, run the the GEO Group;
and the lawsuit filed against Reeves County, the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the GEO Group following medical neglect that lead to the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo.
These are only three counter-examples among many that suggest that the "great success" of the private prison industry in Texas is merely a mirage.
The video of the Bureau of Prisons budget hearing is embedded below. The comments in question begin at 49:34.
Last night, the city commission of McAllen, Texas officially rejected GEO Group's bid to build a private jail. GEO, a Boca Raton, Florida-based company, was the only bidder for the private prision contract. The proposal stated that a private company would build and operate the facility on property owned by the city.
The city of McAllen would have expanded its existing contract with the U.S. Marshals service, and the private company would in turn pay McAllen a portion of the government's daily per-inmate payment. According to city commissioner Scott Crane, the jail could have generated $3 million to $5 million annually for McAllen.
Victor Rodriguez, the city's police chief, advised that the city reject the bid. Rodriguez added that the city could consider other options at a later date. If opened, the proposal, which came in a large FedEx box, would have been made public, which The Monitor's report ("McAllen City Commission Rejects Sole Bid for Private Jail," September 23) suggests influenced the city commission's decision. The Monitor and other entities had previously requested to see the document. The commission voted to reject GEO's proposal without inspecting the proposal.
Opponents of the proposed contract were concerned that the facility would hold immigrants criminally proseucuted for entering the United States without papers, as well as the concept of private jails, which encourages incarceration.
Advocacy groups attended the meeting as well, including La Union del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Azteca, the South Texas Civil Rights Project and the Americal Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Astrid Dominguez, advocacy coordinator for the Texas ACLU, claimed:
"I think that if they try to explore some other options, as the police chief mentioned, there's a lot of information about the other groups that we will gladly provide them. All these companies have awful track records."
We'll keep you updated on developments from McAllen.
With the Texas legislative session underway, Texas Prison Bid’ness is shining the spotlight on five of the top private prison lobbyists in our state. As we’ve covered before, GEO Group, CCA, CEC, and MTC pay hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for lobbying services and campaign contributions for state and federal legislators. Here are five men and women who profit the most from peddling private prisons, jails, and detention centers in Texas:
1. LIONEL AGUIRRE
Leo is no stranger to the Texas Prison Bid’ness blog. He’s been earning top dollar as a GEO Group lawyer for years; his $200,000+ contracts with GEO are some of the fattest in the state. He reported a $100,000-$150,000 salary in 2011 and $50,000-$100,000 in 2012.
Aguirre was married to the late Lena Guerrero, a three-term state representative and the first Latina chair of the powerful Texas Railroad Commission, the agency in charge of regulating the oil and gas industry. Lionel himself was the executive of the state comptroller’s office before moving into the private sector.
2. MICHAEL TOOMEY
Last year, CCA paid Toomey $50,000-$100,000 to lobby for them in the Texas state government. He’s earned himself a lot of press as one of Rick Perry’s inner circle, including articles in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Mother Jones. Between 2008 and 2011, Toomey’s clients won $2 billion in state government contracts, according to a study by the NYT and the Texas Tribune.
3. FRANK R. SANTOS
Santos, the founder of Santos Alliances, calls himself the top Hispanic lobbyist in Texas, and was named the #3 Lobbyist in the State by the San Antonio Express-News in 2006. Santos is the chairman of the Board of Directors for the Senate Hispanic Research Council; the chief national consultant and strategist for the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators. He is also one of GEO Group’s top paid lobbyists in Texas, earning $50,000-$100,000 in both 2011 and 2012. GEO Group operates seven detention centers and twenty prisons in Texas.
4. LARA LANERI KEEL
Ranked as the 2011 Top Female Hired-Gun Lobbyist in the state by Capitol Inside, Keel took in $50,000-$100,000 from Corrections Corporation of America in both 2011 and 2012. Keel is a member of the powerful Texas Lobby Group and director of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. She’s married to John Keel, the State Auditor since 2004.
5. DEAN McWILLIAMS
Co-founder of McWilliams Governmental Affairs Consultants, McWilliams has earned a spot as a top grossing lobbyist in this state; he held a $50,000-$100,000 contract with Community Education Centers (CEC) in 2011 and 2012. On his website, Dean boasts of his close ties to the government, having served on the Legislative Budget Board Task Force on Health Care Reform and the Lieutenant Governor’s Task Force on Prison Overcrowding.