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Thousands of sweltering prisoners to be moved to air-conditioned units

In Houston, a federal judge approved moving more than one thousand prisoners to various private prisons that have air conditioning, reports the Texas Tribune.

 

The judge signed off on Texas' court-ordered proposal to move medically sensitive prisoners from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's (TDCJ) Pack Unit, which has no air conditioner. The proposal was ordered in July following a judge’s ruling that air conditioning must be provided for vulnerable inmates. The judge also stated that TDCJ was "deliberately indifferent" to the risk of harm prisoners face at the scorching prison.

 

In Texas, almost 75 percent of prisons and state jails do not have air conditioning in prisoners’ living areas. Some prisons, including the Pack Unit, regularly reach above 100 degrees. Prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit against TDCJ that points to at least 23 heat-related deaths since 1998. The prisoners argue that housing should be kept at 88 degrees maximum.

 

The majority of these prisoners will be moved to the Diboll Unit, which is operated by Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison company. Others will be transferred to the Travis County State Jail. Two hundred other prisoners will be transferred to nine different units across Texas. Unfortunately, the transfer of prisoners means that some prisoners will be transferred from facilities with air conditioning to those without it, such as the Pack Unit.

 

Jeff Edwards, lawyer for the prisoners at the Pack Unit, believes the transfers could happen more quickly than the two to three weeks TDCJ planned. He also said that the case was not over, hopes to find relief for all prisoners and staff in the Texas prison system, not just at Pack Unit. "It’s our hope that [TDCJ] will join us in the 21st century."

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Private prison guard sentenced to jail time for accepting bribes

A former guard at a privately operated prison in Texas was sentenced today for accepting bribes according to a press release from the Department of Justice.

 

Stephen Salinas was one of two former guards from the Willacy County Detention Center who were accused of accepting bribes last year. Salinas pleaded guilty in January of this year for accepting bribes in return for bringing alcohol and cell phones to prisoners.

 

Salinas was employed by Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison company that ran the Willacy County Detention Center. Salinas will serve 18 months in prison followed by a three-year supervised release.

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The federal government is looking to increase private prison beds

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking to increase the number of beds prisons, reports CNN.

In April, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) issued a notice stating they were looking to increase the number of beds in Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities. These facilities are operated by private prison companies and are used to incarcerate non-citizen immigrants who are mostly convicted of low-level drug offenses or civil immigration offenses. In the U.S. there are 11 such facilities, operated by three private companies: CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. The addition of over 1,500 beds would take the overall population of immigrants in CAR prisons to over 22,000.

This shift is the opposite of what the Obama administration planned for the future of these federal prisons. Last August, then Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates released a memo stating that the DOJ would begin to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The original goal from the Obama administration was to reduce 7,000 beds by May 1st. That memo and plan was overturned by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who rescinded Yates’ previous memo.

Since then, private prison companies have been expanding their operations. The GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison companies, was recently awarded a contract for a new, 1,000-bed detention center that will cost over $100 million to construct and operate. There have also been multiple examples of counties looking to expand their jail capacity or reopen closed immigration facilities.

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Could newly closed correctional facilities be turned into immigrant detention centers?

The Texas House and Senate both proposed to close four state correctional facilities to help lower the state budget, reports the Texas Observer.

The facilities set to be closed are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility, and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, these four facilities cost the state $51.2 million dollars every two years. Together they hold 1,755 prisoners. The closing of these prisons is a rare positive development out of the Texas legislature (see anti-immigrant SB4, family detention centers licensing), with three of the four being operated by private prison companies CoreCivic and Management and Training Corporation (MTC).

If the recommended closures pass the legislature, the state would retain ownership of the Bartlett State Jail and the Dick Ware Transfer facility, as they were operated by MTC yet owned by the state of Texas. CoreCivic and the city of Brownfield, who own the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility respectively, would be free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners to house there.

This worries activists, who fear that the facilities could be turned into ready made immigrant detention centers.

Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, said "I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on how these facilities might be repurposed. It’s common practice for privately owned facilities to get used for other populations of prisoners, like immigrants, and it’s particularly concerning in the current political climate, with talk of expanding detention.”

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Private prison working on permits to demolish existing parts as they look to reopen notorious facility

Willacy County Regional Detention Facility
A private prison company is working on getting permits to continue their push to reopen the Willacy County Detention Center, reports KRGV 5.

On Monday, Management and Training Corporation (MTC) went with Raymondville officials to inspect the facility as they work to reopen the Willacy County Detention Center. Following the inspection, MTC officials said they plan to demolish ten prison tents that were damaged in a 2015 prisoner uprising. Eleazar Garcia, Raymondville's city manager, said MTC required permits to tear down the structures. Garcia said it would take about a day to process the permits.

Raymondville officials hope that the reopening of the facility will lead to a rebuilding of their economy. The facility could bring between 150 and 200 jobs to Raymondville.

Management and Training Corporation, a Utah-based private prison company, has been in the process of reopening their facility located in Raymondville, Texas. It had to be closed in 2015 after a prisoner uprising caused by the horrible conditions at the facility, which led to several prison tents being partially destroyed. Some parts of the facility were torn down soon after the uprising in hopes of securing a new contract, which did not materialize. While insurance covered the cost for MTC to repair the facility, it was not enough for Willacy County and led to a budget crisis that is still affecting the local economy. Perhaps it is time for cities and counties to new look for new revenue streams outside of private prisons, ones that are beneficial and not as risky.

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Willacy County prison to be inspected next week

The owners of the Willacy County Detention Center are taking a step forward in reopening the facility after more than two years with an upcoming inspection, reports KRGV 5.

The Willacy County Detention Center is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville's Guantánamo prison. It is owned by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison company. Though it has been closed for more than two years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had expressed interest in reopening the facility following presidential orders increasing border security and immigration enforcement. Officials from MTC and the city of Raymondville, where the facility is located, will inspect the facility Monday at 10 a.m.

Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said MTC officials were eager to reopen the facility. “They’re going to start working on the facility itself right now to start repairing the damage, and also to make sure they’re up to specs. We’ll have our code enforcement officer here,” he said.

The reason for the inspection and subsequent repairs is due to a prisoner uprising in 2015. The uprising began when prisoners did not eat breakfast to protest the inadequate medical care they were receiving at the facility. The fires that occurred during the incident destroyed a large portion of the facility, which led MTC to tear down what was left in hopes of gaining a new contract. A new contract for the facility has not been signed yet, due to the prisoner uprising and the facility having a history of guards being charged with bribery, drug smuggling, and deaths of prisoners.

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Former Willacy County prison guard sentenced to 18 months in prison

A former Willacy County prison guard has been sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for bribery, reports CBS 4 News.

Harry Cordero, a former guard at the Willacy County Regional Detention Center, was charged last November with two counts of bribery and one count of providing contraband in prison. Cordero accepted bribes to allow alcohol and a cell phone into the prison in December of 2015. Following the conviction, Cordero was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

Cordero and another inmate, Stephen Salinas, were both guards at the Willacy County Detention Center, which is operated by the Utah-based private prison company Management and Training Corporation. The men were employed at the facility before it was closed in 2015, when it was destroyed in a prisoner uprising. Prisoners had received poor medical attention and neglect, which led to the uprising.

The Willacy County facility lost its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in  2011 following multiple physical and sexual assaults by the guards on the prisoners. The facility then had a contract with the U.S. Marshals service until its destruction. Though the facility has been closed for years, in February Willacy County officials stated ICE was interested in reopening the facility following comments from President Trump around increased border security and immigration enforcement.

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Willacy prison could return to original purpose under ICE

Willacy County Regional Detention Facility
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has expressed interest in re-opening the Willacy County Correctional Center, reported the Brownsville Herald.

County officials say that comments from President Trump surrounding increased border security have led to increase interest in immigrant detention centers, as ICE looks for more bed space to detain undocumented immigrants. County Judge Aurelio Guerra said "I’m optimistic we should be able to arrange something out with an operator and a branch of government."

He also said "There seems to be a lot more interest here with this presidential administration. The demand is more toward ICE. Where we are geographically, with our proximity to the border, plays a big role."

However, county officials have yet to make statements on any potential economic impact or the number of jobs created.

The facility was operated by a private prison company, Management and Training Corporation (MTC), for a number of years before losing their contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The contract was canceled following an uprising from the immigrants detained at the facility, who cited poor medical care as one of the reasons that led to them taking over parts of the prison and setting fire.

However, this facility has had numerous problems before the contract was canceled, including prisoners escaping, guards being accused of immigrant smuggling, sexual assault, and others being charged with bribery. Willacy County also went millions of dollars into debt following an expansion of the private prison in 2007, with the eventual closing leading to 400 employees laid off.

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Limestone County signs new agreement to fill private detention center

A new agreement between Limestone County and the U.S. Marshals Service will help fill the county's privately run detention center, reports KWTX 10.

LaSalle Corrections, the Louisiana-based private prison company that operates the facility, signed a new contract with Limestone County last summer to take over operations of the facility. Due to the facility being closed for a few years, LaSalle said it needed to renovate the facility before the company could bring in prisoners from nearby counties. The facility then reopened when the first group of 17-year old prisoners from Harris County transferred to the facility.  

County Judge Daniel Burkeen said officials are "the most encouraged in years" that the facility will be filled once again. A group of prisoners were recently brought to the newly reopened facility last Friday, though numbers of prisoners at the facility are still low. Staff at the facility are currently working to renovate empty buildings so they can be ready for future use. The facility has the capacity to detain 1,000 prisoners.

County Judge Burkeen then said that the agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service will also open the door for immigrant prisoners detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be detained at the facility.

The detention center in Limestone County has had various operators over the years, with both Community Education Centers (now owned by GEO Group) and Management and Training Corporation having been in charge of the facility at one point.  

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Two former private prison guards plead guilty to bribery

Two former private prison guards pleaded guilty to charges of bribery from their time working at the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility, reports CBS 4 News.  

Last November, Stephen Salinas and Harry Cordero were arrested by the U.S. Marshals for accepting bribes from prisoners in return for bringing alcohol and cell phones into the prison. Cordero pleaded guilty on December 21, with his sentencing hearing to be held on March 27. Salinas pleaded guilty on January 3, and will receive his sentencing on April 11. Both men face three to 10 years in prison.

Salinas and Cordero both worked at the Willacy County Regional Detention Facility, a private prison operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), based in Utah. The facility was originally under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold undocumented immigrants who were awaiting deportation proceedings. MTC then lost its' contract with ICE in 2011 due to physical and sexual assaults by the guards on prisoners. It was then used by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, until it was shut down in 2015 following a prisoner uprising that essentially destroyed the facility. The uprising  followed poor medical conditions and neglect MTC at the facility. Reports in the aftermath suggested that guards instigated the incident.

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