The Karnes City Family Detention Center came under intense scrutiny earlier this month when the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and lawyers from the University of Texas School of Law submitted a complaint that guards have been committing “substantial, ongoing sexual abuse” against the mothers being detained.
When the facility—run by the GEO Group—began receiving mothers and their children at the beginning of August, advocates remembered the conditions and trauma that the families detained at the T. Don Hutto facility had to endure from 2006 to 2009. On an ICE directed visit to the Karnes facility last month, mothers complained about the severe cold, poor food quality, and the lack of freedom that they and their children experience on a daily basis, a nearly identical description of initial conditions in the Hutto facility.
Private prison corporations like the GEO Group deal primarily in adult criminal detention, and are not equipped to deal compassionately with vulnerable populations such as recently arrived immigrant families who are seeking asylum. “The recent allegations of sexual abuse don’t surprise me at all,” Grassroots Leadership’s Immigration Projects Director Cristina Parker commented, "I'm sickened, but not surprised." A report jointly released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies documents the lousy track record of the GEO Group when it comes to human rights abuses.
In April, Juan Aguilar, a former GEO employee was charged with sexual abuse of a detainee. The victim of the abuse was being detained at Pearsall during his deportation proceedings. The two men were working in the kitchen when Aguilar pulled down the detainee's pants off and performed fellatio on him in the freezer.
On Wednesday, a jury took just over an hour to find Aguilar guilty, and he is nowawaiting his sentence. Aguilar’s lawyer reportedly argued that he had no authority over the inmate and that the act was “wrong but not a crime,” and likened it to someone having an extra-marital affair — morally wrong but not illegal. However, the law in Texas is clear that sex between inmates and employees is absolutely illegal.
This is not the first time that the GEO Group, and specifically the detention center in Pearsall, has been involved in a sexual abuse scandal.
San Antonio Express News reports that a lawsuit is being filed against Corrections Corporation of America for permitting a hazing tradition at Bartlett State Jail that ultimately led to the sexual assault of an inmate.
Bartlett State Jail is a prison facility for low-level inmates serving short-term sentences. The tradition of hazing inmates who are near to their release date involves forcibly removing their pants, turning them upside down and slamming them against the glass of the guard station. It is impossible for guards to ignore the behavior, as they are literally faced with the exposed backside of the inmate who is being hazed. Bartlett’s Warden Eduardo Carmona and other CCA executives were previously aware of the tradition and yet had never attempted to prevent it from happening.
According to the court documents, the hazing incident that resulted in the sexual assault was a three hour ordeal in which every single inmate in a 55-person block was subjected to the hazing practice while the single officer on duty — who was not only in charge of the victim’s block but three other 55-person blocks — did nothing to intervene.
Typically, in correctional facilities that follow best practices, there should be two officers on duty at all times so that one can intervene while the other calls for backup. Understaffing as a cost-cutting measure is routine at CCA run facilities and, clearly, it results in inmate-on-inmate violence with no intervention by staff.
(Orginally posted on the ACLU of Texas Liberty Blog)
Today, the ACLU of Texas filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women immigrants seeking asylum from sexual abuse and violence who have suffered sexual assault at the hands of detention officers. Horrific as these women’s cases are, they are symptomatic of a much larger problem.
Last night (Oct. 18, 2011), PBS Frontline correspondent Maria Hinojosa took a penetrating look at the Obama administration’s vastly expanded immigration net, punitive approach to immigration enforcement, and the secretive world of immigration detention that is so rife with serious problems and abuses. Among those problems is the sexual abuse of immigration detainees, which the ACLU has helped expose by acquiring government documents through the Freedom of Information Act that provide a first-ever window into the breadth of this national shame. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero was featured during the program, titled "Lost in Detention," discussing those FOIA documents and the Obama administration’s record on immigration more generally.
ACLU of Texas Senior Staff Attorney Mark Whitburn said, “Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg. Government records reveal that since 2007, 185 complaints have been made to the Department of Homeland Security about sexual abuse in ICE custody, 56 of which were from facilities in Texas. Immigrants in detention are uniquely vulnerable to abuse, and those holding them in custody know it,” Whitburn added. “Many do not speak English, many – like our plaintiffs – have fled violence in their home countries, and are terrified of being returned. They may not be aware of their rights or they may be afraid to exercise them.”
The ACLU today launched a page on the www.aclu.org website devoted to the issue of sexual abuse of immigration detainees and a special blog series that will run through October examining the consequences of locking up tens of thousands of civil detainees every day.
Also last night (Oct. 18, 2011), CNBC debuted a new documentary entitled "Billions Behind Bars: Inside America's Prison Industry," a critical investigation of the multi-billion dollar corrections industry and how mass incarceration is a windfall for one particular special interest group: the private prison industry. Among other things, the program featured an ACLU case challenging the brutally violent conditions at the Idaho Correctional Center, operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison company. As part of its promotion of the documentary, CNBC has posted on its website an op-ed by the National Prison Project's David Shapiro discussing the nefarious reality that private prison executives rake in multi-million dollar compensation packages while over-incarceration continues to harm the nation as a whole.
Later this month, ABC will air a special program on immigration detention that will feature several pieces of ACLU work, and as more information about air time becomes available we will let you know.