Another year has passed here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and what an exciting year it has been. As we have done in the past, the bloggers here at TPB would like to recap our favorite or perhaps the most memorable stories/topics over the past year. Over the next few days, we'll be posting 2009's top five stories related to private prisons.
This is the second biggest story of 2009.
#2 Protests and riots at the GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center
2009 started out with second riot at GEO's Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas by prisoners angered at multiple deaths and a lack of medical care at the facility. By year's end, nine immigrant prisoners had died in the facility in the last four years. The riots could cost the county, which owns the facility over $1 million in repair costs. In the wake of the riots, the ACLU of Texas requested a Department of Justice review of the facility, and attorney Juan Angel Guerra was denied access to clients in Pecos.
Several major investigative pieces covered the issue, including Forrest Wilder's Texas Observer piece ("The Pecos Insurrection," October 2) which chronicled last year's December 12th riot after the death of prisoner Jesus Manuel Galindo, and Tom Barry's Boston Review story ("A Death in Texas," November/December 2009) puts Galindo's death and the subsequent disturbances in the context of how Pecos got into the prison-building business in the first place. Barry later spoke to Terry Gross about Reeves and private detention on NPR's Fresh Air.
Conditions at the Reeves County Detention Center continued to make headlines into December, thanks to protests organized by the Southwest Workers Union, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
Protesters gathered at the GEO Group's regional headquarters in New Braunfels on December 10th with coffins to represent the nine prisoner deaths at the facility in the last four years. Texas Prison Bid'ness blogger and Grassroots Leadership organizer Bob Libal joined Maria Reynaga, the sister of a prisoner at RCDC, and ACLU of Texas director Terri Burke to deliver a letter to GEO executives calling on the company to to submit to a Department of Justice investigation into immigrant prisoner deaths and the conditions of confinement at RCDC, implement a transparent grievance system, and allow civil rights groups to monitor conditions at the facility.
Family members and protesters also gathered in Pecos on December 12th, the anniversary of the death of the Jesus Manuel Galindo. Galindo's death sparked the first of the two major riots at the prison in protest to a lack of medical care and abusive conditions. At the same time, the ACLU of Texas met with prisoners at RCDC, who described atrocious conditions at the facility, according to an op-ed by the ACLU's Tracey Hayes ("ACLU Texas advocate reveals inside look at inhumane conditions and profiteering at GEO managed detention center," Restore Fairness),
Prison officials keep medical costs down by making it almost impossible for inmates to get adequate medical care. They keep food costs down by serving low quality food in insufficient amounts. They keep administrative costs down by restricting access to grievance processes with English-only requirements and by punishing English speakers who assist mono-lingual Spanish speakers in filling out the forms. Bi-lingual speakers who try to help others must eventually choose between being thrown into solitary confinement or ending their translation assistance.
Furthermore, GEO’s cost-cutting has led to a long and steady rise in the company’s profits while atrocities continue unabated. For example, detainees spoke of medical staff prescribing “two Tylenol” to detainees who complain of stomach ulcers, blood in the urine or stool, and metastasizing lumps spreading over aging bodies. And inmates with previously diagnosed chronic and serious conditions were also prescribed “two Tylenol.” When they press their cases to obtain the medicines they need, detainees are often thrown into solitary where they are unable to ask for further medical attention or submit grievances.
It certainly doesn't sound like things have improved much at RCDC. The facility's contract with the Bureau of Prisons is up in March, 2010, so we're likely to see more stories about RCDC in the new year.
Protests are being planned next week for International Human Rights Day condemning human rights abuses against immigrants incarcerated at GEO Group's Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas. The protests are being organized Grassroots Leadership, the ACLU of Texas, the Southwest Workers Union, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. The organizations have launched a new website to chronicle the ongoing troubles at Reeves.
At least nine prisoner deaths in the last four years have been reported at Reeves and the facility was home to two major prisoner uprisings last year. Prisoners held at Reeves are segregated based on their immigration status. Many, including several who have died, have served 5 or 10 year sentences for immigration violations.
Two actions are being planned.
1) International Human Rights Day at GEO in New Braunfels
Thursday, December 10, 12pm-1pm
GEO Offices, 1583 Common Street, New Braunfels, TX
Austin carpool and RSVP: firstname.lastname@example.org
2) March and Vigil at the Reeves County Detention Center
Saturday, December 12, 11a.m.
Reeves County Courthouse,
100 E. 4th Street, Pecos, TX
Reeves was the subject of two major investigative pieces in recent months. Forrest Wilder's Texas Observer piece ("The Pecos Insurrection," October 2) chronicled last year's December 12th riot after the death of prisoner Jesus Manuel Galindo. Tom Barry's Boston Review story ("A Death in Texas," November/December 2009) puts Galindo's death and the subsequent disturbances in the context of how Pecos got into the prison-building business in the first place.
We'll post pictures and know developments from the protests.
Emily Ramshaw at the newly-launched Texas Tribune has a series of three stories this week on the state of health care and mental health care in private immigrant detention centers in south Texas, including the GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall and MTC's Willacy County "Tent City" lock-up in Raymondville.
Ramshaw's first article ("Mental Hell," November 16) details the lack of mental health providers at the many large south Texas immigrant detention centers:
[GEO's] South Texas facility, one of several federally monitored Texas lock-ups for immigrants awaiting deportation hearings, is hardly the only one with mental health staffing problems. A Texas Tribune review of five of these facilities found just three had a staff psychiatrist, despite housing a combined 5,500 detainees.
In part two ("Health Scare," November 17), Ramshaw tackles health care and staffing problems at both GEO's South Texas facility in Pearsall and MTC's notorious Willacy "Tent City" prison in Raymondville, the country's largest immigrant detention centers.
A 2007 review of medical care at the Willacy Detention Center in Raymondville found medical staffing was “barely adequate,” and that the facility’s clinic was too small to care for its 1,800 detainees. Twenty of the facility’s 46 health care positions were vacant. The detention center had no clinical director, dentist, pharmacist or psychiatrist. Half of Willacy’s licensed vocational nurses hadn’t even completed new employee orientation.
In part three (Andre's Story, November 19), the Tribune lets a former detainee, Andre Osborne, tell his own story in the form of a video. Check it out:
Over all, this coverage is very promising from Ramshaw and the Texas Tribune. We'll keep you posted on developments.
The GEO Group has pulled out of a contract to operate a Beaumont jail, according to KBMT ("Downtown Beaumont Jail Shuts Doors, Temporarily," November 12)
The private company that operated a downtown Beaumont jail facility has ended it's contract with Jefferson County.
Officials say the facility has been temporarily closed.
The Geo Group announced the move on Monday, November 9, 2009 and county officials are now seeking bids for a replacement company. The jail has earned the county more than a million dollars a year in revenue, and sheriff Woods says there could be repercussions for a county contract to house Harris County inmates.
We'll keep you posted on developments.