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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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Immigrant prisoner uprising at Willacy County CAR prison

Last week, up to 2,000 immigrant prisoners staged a two-day riot at a private prison in Raymondville, TX. According to a report by DemocracyNow!, the prisoners were protesting inadequate medical care when they refused to eat breakfast on February 20, seized control of part of the prison, and set fires.

The prison, Willacy County Correctional Center, is owned and operated by the private prison company Management & Training Corporation (MTC), and is known by critics as "Ritmo" — short for Raymondville’s Guantánamo prison. It is also referred to as “tent city” because the majority of the prisoners sleep in large, cramped kevlar tents.

Willacy County Correctional Center

The Raymondville prison is also one of 13 privately operated CAR or “Criminal Alien Requirement” prisons. Carl Takei, staff attorney with the ACLU’s national prison project explained:

"Willacy is one of 13 private prisons in the federal system. It’s sort of a shadow system within the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, that is run by private prison companies. These prisons house immigrants who have been convicted of drug offenses and immigrants who have been convicted of something called illegally re-entering the United States after deportation. The Bureau of Prisons has consigned immigrants to these prisons based on the assumption that they are all going to be deported after their sentences are up. And it can therefore treat them as second-class prisoners and hand them over to these for-profit companies that have a history of abusing and mistreating the people in their custody."

Takei also authored the report, Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System, which provides a closer look at CAR prisons and the inhumane conditions inside.  

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Methodists and other groups protest MTC's Raymondville detention center

Check out this excellent video of the January 9th vigil outside MTC's Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas.  The piece features a moving speech by Rev. Dr. Daisy Machado. The vigil was also covered by Nick Braune at the Texas Civil Rights Review ("Methodist Group and Others Protest at Raymondville," January 18). 

 

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Texas Tribune highlights poor health care in private detention centers

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.

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Vigil Calls for Closure of Raymondville's Notorious "Tent City" Detention Center

More than one hundred organizers from across Texas held a vigil Friday for the 4,200 immigrants in detention in the Rio Grande Valley and called for the closure of the controversial Willacy County Detention Center in Raymondville (Protest at Willacy County detention center, Oct. 16, 2009). The 3,086-bed Willacy County Processing Center, a private prison operated by Utah-based Management and Training Corporation (MTC) and partially constructed of Kevlar tents, is the nation's largest immigrant detention center.

In announcing the vigil, organizers pointed to evidence that alternatives to immigrant detention exist which are more humane, more effective, and more fiscally responsible than immigrant detention.

A Vera Institute study from 2000 showed that 91% of immigrants on a supervised release program attended all of their immigration hearings, and the cost of the supervision program was $12 a day, compared with the more than $30 a day ICE pays MTC to detainee immigrants at Tent City.

The Vera Institute concluded:

"Using community supervision as a substitute for detention... will increase the efficiency of the expensive detention system, and it will allow those who win relief, mostly asylum seekers, to avoid the pains of detention altogether."

In calling for closure of the Willacy County Detention Center, organizers cited dismal conditions which have been reported by former detainees and local news outlets. The Director of the facility in 2007 admitted to NPR that prisoners at the facility were forced to eat meals with their hands, and Harlingen's KGBT-TV reported that internal documents showed numerous documented cases that the facility fed immigrant detainees rotten or contaminated food including food infested with maggots.

The vigil also drew attention to the plight of more than 1,800 detainees held at the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC), located about forty miles southeast of the Willacy County Detention Center. The prison holds ICE detainees, with subcontracting services by Ahtna Technical Services Incorporated (ATSI). PIDC detainees have been on rolling hunger strike for several months protesting violations of their due process rights, inadequate medical attention, and physical and verbal abuse from ICE and ATSI officers.

Our own Bob Libal was interviewed by KGBT Channel 4's Ryan Wolf at the vigil. Check KGBT-TV's coverage out here.

The vigil was sponsored by the Southwest Workers Union, Grassroots Leadership, Coalition of Amigos in Solidarity & Action (CASA), La Union del Pueblo Entero, Proyecto Libertad, Texans United for Families, Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera, ACLU of Texas, American Friends Service Committee - Austin, Border Ambassadors, and Texas Indigenous Council.

Previous Tent City Coverage from TPB-

Are the Hurricane Dolly Evacuations Putting Tent City in Financial Trouble? (09/09/2008)
Raymondville MTC Guard Accused of Stealing from Detainees (04/13/2008)
Guards at MTC's "Tent City" Accused of Immigrant Smuggling (11/20/2007)
MTC Prison Populations Growing, Partially Off Texas Expansion (10/23/2007)
Protests to Private Detention Centers Continue to Grow (09/04/2007)
Willacy County Goes $50 Million More in Debt to Expand MTC’s Tent City (08/30/2007)
More Detention Nightmares: Maggots in the food at MTC's Raymondville Prison (08/04/2007)
1,000 More Beds for Raymondville (AKA Prisonville) Detention Center (07/17/2007)
Raymondville Private Prisons and Prison Scandals Have Long History (06/17/2007)

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