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Report reveals local quotas in South Texas immigrant detention facilities

Texas local quotas, image by Detention Watch Network
Texas local quotas, image by Detention Watch Network

A recent Detention Watch Network report uncovered local quotas at immigrant detention facilities in South Texas, according to The Associated Press. These local quotas are found in contracts with local governments and the private corporations that manage facilities for ICE.

In total, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is contractually obligated to pay for the detention of 3,255 immigrants daily at five facilities in Texas. Three of these are for-profit facilities operated by either Corrections Corporation of America or the GEO Group. These facilities are the Houston Processing Center, South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, and Karnes County Correctional Center. The highest guaranteed minimum at one of these for-profit facilities is 750 at Houston Processing Center, with South Texas Detention Complex falling close behind at 725. It is unclear whether the Karnes detention center, which has been converted into a family detention facility, is still operating under a 450-bed quota for its current population.

ICE officials say that these local minimums are a way to ensure that they meet the national quota mandating that 34,000 beds be available to detain immigrants each day. In all of the Texas facilities, the local quotas have been exceeded.

Family detention will return to Texas at the Karnes Detention Center, southeast of San Antonio

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.

The colorful facade of the Karnes Council Civil Detention Center.
The colorful facade of the Karnes Council Civil Detention Center.
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.

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GEO's Karnes County Correctional Center found out-of-compliance for overcrowding, under-staffing

GEO Group's Karnes County Correctional Center was found out of compliance in an Jail Inspection Report issued today by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS). According to inspection (attached as a PDF): 

"While conducting the walk-through of the facility, it was discovered that there were 46 inmates confined in a holding cell with a capacity of 24. The capacity was visibly marked above the door of the cell."

Other problems found included a shortage of jail staff on sight, a past due inspection of the facility's kitchen, eight months of missing documentation related to emergency power equipment, and a lack of proper procedures to notify magistrate judges in the case of a prisoner with mental illness.  

According to TCJS's population report, the facility had 388 prisoners at the time of inspection out of a total capacity of 550.  All 388 prisoners were contract prisoners, and 355 were federal prisoners.  The fact that the facility has overcrowded cells, but is under capacity, speaks to probable severe understaffing at the facility, a problem also mentioned in the report: 

"While reviewing staffing rosters, it was determined that the 1 jailer per 48 inmates required ratio was not being met at all times as required by minimum jail standards. On samples reviewed, during every month of 2013, several shifts were found to have a shortage of jailers for the number of inmates in the facility. Shortages were normally between one to two jailers, but in some cases, they were three jailers short of meeting the requirement."

Staffing shortages shouldn't come as a surprise at Karnes which is in the heart of the Texas fracking boom and where unemployment is relatively low.  With KCCC experiencing staffing shortages and these operational problems, one has to wonder if the same problem isn't impacting the neighboring Karnes County Civil Detention Center, which is not subject to TCJS inspections because it only holds federal detainees for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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