You are here

Karnes County Family Detention Center

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.

Blogging Categories: 

Family detention centers receive good reports—what did they miss?

Two South Texas family detention centers have received good marks from the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Inspector General, reports the San Antonio Express.

 

The report was done in response to criticism by RAICES, a San Antonio non-profit that works with families in the two detention centers, and other groups who said sexual assaults inside  go unpunished and the detainees are treated poorly. Advocates said that the centers provide inadequate medical care, lack services for families who speak languages other than of Spanish, and that they hold children in jail-like conditions.

 

The report stated that medical care was readily available at the centers, though one of the facilities does not have a pediatrician. The report did not state which facility it was, though because both centers detain children, each should have a pediatrician available. It is questionable if health care is readily available, as there is currently a lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stating they interfered with telemedicine procedures at the South Texas Detention Center in Dilley, Texas. Telemedicine is a way for prisoners to undergo medical evaluations on the phone.  

 

In September of last year, the Department of Justice was urged to look into violations of the American with Disabilities Act at the Karnes Detention Center when it was discovered that the school in the prison was inaccessible to students or others with mobility impairments. ICE also banned crayons after a detained child "destroyed property" by accidentally coloring on a table while their parent received legal advice.

 

This report comes six months after a DHS Advisory Committee recommended the end of DHS's policy on family detention.

Blogging Categories: 

Texas family detention centers violate federal law by holding families for too long

Family detention centers in Texas are violating federal law for holding minors in detention, reports the Associated Press.

 Some families have been detained in detention centers for more than six months, even after Texas lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would license family detention centers as child care facilities. The passage of the bill would have opened the door for families to be detained for longer periods of time.

 Today, the AP reports that maximum time minors are supposed to be detained is 20 days, though many families are detained for much longer than that. Amy Fischer, policy director for RAICES, Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, works with detained families and knows of at least seven families who have been held over the 20-day mark.

 Advocates against family detention say that 20-day stays violate federal law. A court ruling in 2015 said minors could not be detained for more than three days unless there are surges in immigration. Currently, the number of people crossing the border is at a low point.

Blogging Categories: 

Bill that would license "baby jails" dies in the Texas House

A bill before the Texas House of Representatives that would allow the licensing of family detention centers as child care facilities has died, reports The Eagle.

The bill, which was authored by by Rep. John Raney, was not heard before Thursday's midnight deadline to hear bills. The bill, House Bill 2225, would have allowed the two family detention centers located in Texas to be licensed as child care facilities. By licensing the facilities, the women and children detained in these detention camps could have been detained for even longer periods of time. The Senate version of the same bill was passed 20-11 along party lines and was referred to a House committee, where it could still be sent to to the House floor for a vote.

Rep. Raney stated that the bill would put an end to the legal dispute over the licensing of family detention centers in Texas. Following a ruling by a federal judge stating children could not be detained in secure facilities, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services approved a rule that would allow them to license the facilities. This was challenged in court by immigrant families, and led to an Austin-area judge issuing a final judgment saying that the family detention centers could not be licensed. That ruling is currently being appealed by the Texas Attorney General.

Rep. Raney then admitted that the bill was written by a lobbyist for the GEO Group who is a "longtime friend" of his. That is unsurprising, as the GEO Group is one of two private prison companies that operate family detention centers in Texas. The company would profit from the additional time that women and children would spend detained, as they are normally paid a per diem rate for each individual detained.

Following GEO's purchase of two correctional facilities and being awarded a new contract, this is a welcome setback for private prisons here in Texas.

Family detention centers are mostly empty — so why license them?

According to KUT, the two family detention centers in South Texas are mostly empty, leaving immigration judges who had been relocated to the centers with nothing to do.

Due to a low number of people being detained at the border, the number of individuals in the two family detention centers in Texas has dropped dramatically. Between the two facilities, there are only a few hundred people detained. The two facilities have a total capacity of more than 3,000.

Another reason for the low numbers is due to a federal ruling that stated that children could not be held in a secure, jail-like facility. To comply with the ruling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement — the federal agency that contracts with the family detention centers — must release the children and their mothers in a short amount of time.

To bypass that decision, Texas State lawmakers this year proposed a bill that would allow the state to license this family detention camps as child care facilities. This bill, if signed into law, would be used to circumvent the ruling that an Austin-area judge made in a lawsuit but forth by immigrant families and allies against the licensing.   

The question is, why license the centers? There are less people being detained at the border, so there is less need for these detention centers. The answer is simple.

Money.

By being able to license these family detention centers as childcare facilities, the private prison companies who operate would be able to detain mothers and children for longer periods of time.

Most contracts between private prison companies have a clause written in them where they receive a daily sum for each person detained in their facilities. If the detention centers were licensed, it would extend the amount of time each individual is detained, meaning more money for the private prison companies. The author of the proposed bill admitted that the bill was authored by the GEO Group, one of two private prison companies that operate family detention centers in Texas. This shows that money, not looking out for the well-being of mothers and children, is what really drives legislation in Texas.

Blogging Categories: 

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.”

500 immigrant women and children released from detention

The Huffington Post writes that nearly 500 immigrant women and children were released from two Texas family detention centers this past weekend.

Women and children from both the South Texas Family Residential and the Karnes Family Residential Center were released over the weekend, following a ruling by an Austin judge that the state of Texas cannot license family detention centers as childcare facilities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) denied that the releases had anything to do with the court ruling and claimed that they had already been scheduled.

Blogging Categories: 

Senators press Department of Homeland Security to stop family detention

A group of 17 Democratic senators called on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to end the practice of family detention, as reported by Mother Jones.

The group of senators, including former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and vice-presidential candidate Tim Kaine, sent a letter to Sec. Johnson saying family detention is "wrong" and "should be ended immediately." They cited research showing how prolonged confinement can hurt children's physical and mental health. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has taken a similar position as her running mate, and called for an end to family detention.

There are currently three family detention centers in the United States, one in Pennsylvania and  two in Texas. These centers have a history of poor medical care, lack of legal access, and sexual assault.

 

Blogging Categories: 

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.

Blogging Categories: 

Whistleblower reveals harrowing details from inside Karnes family detention center

Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Olivia Lopez testifying at Congressional Progressive Caucus hearing on family detention
Social worker Olivia Lopez spoke to media and House Democrats in late July about the troubling inner workings of the GEO-operated Karnes family detention camp near San Antonio, Texas. She called what was happening at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility “tantamount to torture” and said that she was shocked when she began working at the facility to find that it was “really a prison.”

Lopez revealed that she was rebuked for attempting to provide basic social services such as showing the families the geographic location of the facility and creating better ways to document their concerns. In December, Lopez received this directive from her boss: “ICE: We don’t tell them anything.” She recalled that psychologists were encouraged to falsify records in order to leave a clean paper trail, and that they reported families’ stories to ICE agents.

She also observed severe medical neglect inside the facility, including instances where GEO staff ignored severe abdominal pain and cranial bleeding in toddlers and infants until the emergency became so severe that they were flown to a hospital to undergo major operations. Additionally, Lopez said during one chicken pox outbreak, each “resident” was forced to submit to a blood draw in a way that terrorized children and left many with heavy bruising.

Lopez also confirmed reports of retaliation against leaders of a hunger strike that took place inside the facility earlier this year. She says that leaders of the strike were placed in isolation, sometimes being separated from their children, who were placed in the care of guards with no childcare license. Children were not told of their mothers’ whereabouts and were left to sleep alone without protection.

At various points, Lopez observed that ICE officials condoned and participated in the environment that GEO created, which isolated and terrorized the detained mothers and children. Lopez stated that she was compelled to resign from her position in April after being asked to withhold information from federal officials and follow policies that violated her social work license. Her full testimony the the Congressional Progressive Caucus is available here.

Blogging Categories: 

Pages

Subscribe to Karnes County Family Detention Center