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Rep. Lloyd Doggett Investigates Treatment of Prisoners during Hurricane Harvey

Photo by NASA/Randy Bresnik

 

Rep. Lloyd Doggett has submitted an inquiry to the Federal Bureau of Prisons regarding the treatment of prisoners in Beaumont facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, according to the Texas Tribune. This inquiry came once advocates received testimonies from prisoners that they were denied food, water, and sanitation during and following the storm. As the Federal Bureau of Prisons chose not to evacuate the Beaumont prisoners, this inquiry exposes the human rights abuses that occur in both privately and publically operated Bureau of Prison facilities. When the Bureau of Prisons denied that the facility had flooded, Grassroots Leadership organizer Jorge Renaud advocated for leaders to “default on the side of the vulnerable populations.” He said, “When things rise of the level of someone actually being woken up to say something about a condition ... and is willing to go on the record, it’s usually indicative of quite a few more inside who are actually experiencing the same stuff.”

This incident recalls the treatment of detainees in private detention facilities during Hurricane Dolly in 2008, when 1,000 detainees at Willacy Detention Center were not evacuated. Those who were evacuated were denied adequate housing, food, access to legal counsel and communications, and protection from the elements.

The treatment of prisoners in Beaumont during Hurricane Harvey raises concern for the immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in private detention centers along the Texas coast, including Karnes County family detention center  and Brooks County Detention Center operated by GEO Group. Detainees were not reported to have been evacuated, leaving them in the path of the historic and devastating storm.

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Residents protest newest immigration lock-up in Texas

The people of Conroe, Texas are getting a new immigration detention center in their town, regardless of whether they want it or not, reports the Texas Observer.

 

In April, the GEO Group was awarded a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to build a new immigrant detention center in Conroe. The contract includes the construction and operation of the $110-million facility, which the company expects to earn $44 million in annual revenue. However, city officials and residents are not impressed.

 

Conroe Mayor Toby Powell  said, "It’s going ahead; I don’t think I have any say-so," in deciding whether the facility will be built or not. When the idea for the detention center was first brought up in 2013, members of the community spoke out against the construction, stating they did not want Conroe to become "Con-vict-roe." These protests continued as community members spoke out against the new facility.

 

Unfortunately, the contract is between ICE and GEO, who already received the necessary building permits. Mayor Powell claims he was powerless to stop the issuing of permits.

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Immigration shuts down alternative to detention program for asylum seekers

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is shutting down a program designed as an alternative to detention for asylum, reports KristTV.

 The Family Case Management Program  was an alternative to detaining families in detention centers, two of which are located in Texas. There were 630 families enrolled as of April 19. The program connected asylum seeking families to social workers who helped participants find lawyers, get housing and healthcare, and helped them navigate the immigration court system. The women who are eligible for the program, or who were previously enrolled, can be expected to wear ankle monitors, which have been reported to cause bruising and ostracism.

 Ann Schlarb, an executive with the GEO Group, the private prison company that contracted with ICE operate the program, wrote that families in the program have thrived, and that 99% of families successfully attended court appearances and ICE check-ins. So why end such a successful program?

 When asked about shutting down the program, an ICE spokesperson said, "By discontinuing [family case management], ICE will save more than $12 million a year — money which can be utilized for other programs which more effectively allow ICE to discharge its enforcement and removal responsibilities."

 If money is the motivator, why close down a program that cost the government $36 a day compared to the cost of maintaining a family detention bed, which costs $319 a day? Alternatives to family detention that don’t subject people to wearing ankle monitors are real. They are successful and cost-effective.

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A mother locked up in family detention attempts suicide in bid to have children released

A mother detained in a family detention center attempted suicide, reports the Huffington Post.

Samira Hakimi of Afghanistan has been detained at both the Dilley family detention center and the Karnes family detention center with her two young children. Hakimi passed her credible fear interview, an important first step in the asylum process. Normally an individual would be freed so they can continue their case in immigration court. However, Hakimi and her family are still detained and ICE has given no reason as to why. Hakimi's sister-in-law is also detained in Karnes with her 10-month-old baby.

 Hakimi has been suffering from clinical depression due to being detained for months, and felt particularly low when her son asked her why some families were leaving but they were not.

 Amy Fisher, policy director at RAICES, a non-profit focused on providing legal aid to families in detention, said, "She was crying and really depressed. And she went into this thought process, when she was really low, thinking, ‘Well, if I’m no longer here, maybe my children can be free.’" Children cannot be held in family detention without a family member or guardian.

 Following her suicide attempt, Hakimi woke up in the medical center at Karnes and was then taken to a nearby hospital. Staff from the detention center gave her medicine but did not give a reason as to what the medicine was or the purpose of it. Hakimi did not know what the medicine was, and RAICES is currently requesting her medical records.

 Dr. Luis Zayas, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas, has interviewed countless individuals in detention and documented the effects of detention on children. “This is what happens when people get desperate,” Zayas said. “This woman is suffering a mental health crisis. But we know where it’s coming from. We know what we can do to stop it.”

 Dr. Zayas is right. We know what we can do to stop it. We must end family detention.

 

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Texas Senate passes bill that will license 'baby jails' as childcare facilities

The Texas Senate passed a bill that would allow family detention camps to be licensed as child care facilities, reports Raw Story. The bill now heads to the House.

The bill would allow family detention centers to be licensed as child care facilities, which would extend the length of detention for mothers in children detained at the centers. A federal judge ruled in 2015 that children could not be held in secure facilities that are not licensed child care facilities. To try and circumvent that ruling, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) approved a rule that would allow the licensing of family detention centers to continue.

This approved rule was then challenged by a lawsuit that was filed by immigrant families who had been detained in Karnes and Dilley — the two family detention centers located in Texas. An Austin-area judge issued a final judgement in December of 2016 that prevented DFPS from licensing the facilities. This ruling has been appealed by the Texas Attorney General.

To avoid more lawsuits and time in court, the Texas Legislature took matters into their own hands by trying to pass legislation that would allow Texas to license family detention centers as child care facilities. The Senate version of the bill will potentially waive regulations that other child care facilities must follow. A Texas representative recently admitted that a lobbyist from GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Karnes, wrote the legislation for this bill. GEO officials admitted in SEC filings that licensing would be good for the company  because it would prolong the amount of time women and children can be detained.

State Sen. José Rodriguez, who opposed the bill, insists that if this bill passes it will "lesser standards and lack of accountability that will result in women and children being harmed”.

He went on to say the family detention centers "are prisons and there’s no question about that. There may be some TVs here and there, some bunk beds, but it is a secure facility, a baby jail.”

Reeves County Detention Center cancels visits under "precautionary" lockdown

The Reeves County Detention Center has been turning away visitors to the facility due to a "precautionary" lockdown, reports CBS 7.

The Reeves County Detention Center is run by the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. While there has been no word on the cause of the lockdown, individuals told CBS 7 that visitation to the prison has not been allowed for the past month due to the "precautionary" lockdown.

When contacted about the lockdown, Pablo E. Paenz, of GEO Group, said "while we’re not able to comment on specific security matters, we can confirm that the center is under a precautionary lockdown. During this time, medical services and regularly scheduled meals are being provided to the population. The center is committed to keeping those entrusted to our care safe and secure."

This is not the first time the Reeves County Detention Center has been in the spotlight. In the past, the facility has been the site of multiple riots, mysterious deaths, and has denied entry to attorneys.

We will post updates as we learn more.

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"Precautionary" lockdown finally lifted at Reeves Detention Center

The lockdown on the Reeves County Detention Center has been lifted, reports News West 9.

As we reported earlier, the detention center was under "precautionary" lockdown. Visitors to the center were denied, and some reported that visitation had not been allowed for almost a month. Officials from the GEO Group, the private prison company that operates the facility, confirmed that there had been a lockdown but gave no reason as to why.

In an email sent to News West 9, GEO officials said the lockdown had been lifted. However, they were unclear on when the lockdown was lifted or how long it had been in effect.

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Immigration enforcer promises to be "a strong advocate" in new role at private prison company

A top official for Immigration and Customs Enforcement is moving on to a new job with one of the largest private prison companies, reports the Daily Beast.

Daniel Ragsdale is currently second-in-command at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Before becoming deputy director, Ragsdale was temporarily the head of the agency until President Trump named his replacement in January. He will now move on to a new role with the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S.. GEO Group operates facilities for both federal prisoners and undocumented immigrants who have been detained by ICE.  

In a letter to his ICE colleagues, Ragsdale said, "While you may be losing me as a colleague, please know that I will continue to be a strong advocate for you and your mission."

Ragsdale is not the first official at ICE who has made the move from the public to private sector. Various GEO Group executives, including David Venturella and Mary Loiselle, were both ICE officials before landing top posts at GEO.

Employing former immigration enforcement agents seems to be working for GEO Group, which recently bought two correctional facilities and landed a contract to construct and operate a new $100 million dollar detention center.

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.  

GEO Group closes purchase of Community Education Centers

The GEO Group, a private prison company, has finalized the purchase of Community Education Centers, reports Seeking Alpha.

As reported earlier, GEO Group spent $360 million in an all-cash transaction to purchase Community Education Centers (CEC), another for-profit prison company that owns or manages over 12,000 beds in jails and detention centers. CEC operated 8 different facilities in Texas, where there have been wrongful deaths, contraband in jails, and breakouts from their facilities.

 

GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the United States, did not purchase CEC to revamp or improve the facilities however. Facilities operated by GEO Group have their own history of mistreatment, including sexual assault, prisoner suicide attempts, and smuggling drugs into the facilities. GEO Group is expecting a revenue boost of $250 million.

This isn't the first time that GEO has bought out a competitor. In 2010, they bought Houston-based Cornell Companies for $374 million. Then in 2015, GEO purchased a smaller private prison company, LCS Corrections, for another $350 million. These purchases, along with the recent purchase of CEC, give GEO a huge hold on prisons in Texas.

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