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FBI Takes Investigation on Sexual Assault in Hutto Detention Center

National coverage of the sexual abuse scandal at the Hutto Detention Center continues as Rewire reported that the FBI announced it would intervene to conduct an investigation. Laura Monterrosa, an asylum seeker from El Salvador, came forward publicly on November 9 to speak out against the abuse she experienced while she remains held in detention where her abuser is still employed.

The detention center, operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA), has a history of sexual abuse incidents. In 2007, a CCA guard was accused of assaulting a woman detained with her son. In 2010, another CCA guard assaulted eight women in transport. 

 
Photo of Laura Monterrosa courtesy of Grassroots Leadership

In addition to Monterrosa, two other women formerly detained at Hutto have come forward with claims of sexual abuse. One woman, Ana, filed a formal complaint regarding sexual harassment and was subsequently transferred to the Laredo Detention Center. Another woman, named Esmeralda, also came forward to claim she was abused by the same guard as Ana.

Following interviews with Monterrosa, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement that it found Monterrosa’s claims unsubstantiated in a joint investigation with the Williamson County Sheriff's Office. This statement was not communicated to Monterrosa, who has been “left in the dark” according to Grassroots Leadership researcher and immigration organizer Bethany Carson.

Rewire interviewed Christina M. Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), who spoke on ICE’s secrecy in hiding abuses of power within detention. Fialho stated, “If more people knew what was truly happening behind locked doors, I think there would be an outcry against the immigrant prison system. So, ICE has an incentive to keep the public in the dark about what is happening behind locked doors. What better way to do this than to deny that any problems exist? By adopting a head-in-the-sand approach and declaring sexual assault complaints ‘unfounded,’ ICE and its contracted facility guards can continue to perpetrate rights [abuses].”

While sexual assault remains underreported in detention, CIVIC analyzed sexual assault reports from detention through a FOIA request to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Attorney General. The investigation uncovered that between January 2010 and July 2016, Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General received over 33,000 complaints of sexual assault or physical abuse against DHS’s component agencies. But the Inspector General investigated less than 1 percent of these cases” (CIVIC).

Carson stated that Williamson County Sheriff’s Department contacted advocates prior to a press conference on December 4 to state that the FBI would handle the investigation. Questions remained, however, regarding the facility and governing agencies’ prior investigation: “If they do follow PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act], a policy for allegations is required, and now that the FBI has stepped in, everyone has kind of thrown their hands up and bucked responsibility for how it was initially handled—and we don’t even know how it was handled. This is all highly problematic,” Carson said.

Describing the issue as “extremely pervasive,” Carson added, “What is happening to Laura is endemic of detention centers and almost impossible to completely eliminate unless we eliminate detention centers.”

Texas Prison Bid’ness will continue to report on Monterrosa’s case and the developing investigation by the FBI as it is reported.

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Immigrant denounces alleged rape at Joe Corley Detention Center

Douglas Menjivar, an immigrant just released from the Polk County Detention Center in Livingston after 22 months in detention, says he was raped in September and October 2013 while detained at the Joe Corley detention center. Joe Corley is an immigrant detention center in Conroe, Texas run by the private prison corporation GEO Group.

Menjivar says he reported the rape to the supervising Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer known only as "Mr. Hernandez," immediately after it occurred, but was ridiculed and called “stupid” for "allowing himself to be raped."

Menjivar officially reported the incident to an ICE doctor in December 2014. The agency concluded its investigation in February, stating that the results of the investigation “do not corroborate the accusation.” However, Menjivar told Semana News that he couldn't provide the names of the four witnesses to the rape because he feard for the safety of his family in El Salvador.

While at the Joe Corley Detention Center, Menjivar participated in a hunger strike last year to call attention to the inhumane conditions at the facility. The hunger strike at Joe Corley was inspired by hunger strikes at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Shortly after protests in June 2014, ICE transferred some of the immigrant protesters detained at Joe Corley to other facilities, but the majority were deported.

Menjivar has been issued an order of deportation but says he fears for his life if returned to El Salvador. Menjivar's attorney appealed to the 5th Circuit Appellate Court to stop his deportation on the grounds that since he does not have a criminal record in this country, he should not be an enforcement priority. Though the legal process has not yet been successful, advocates credit Menjivar's recent release to a congressional letter by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee requesting a stay of deportation. Additionally, due to the danger he would face if deported, the Salvadoran consulate did not issue departure papers, which further delayed his deportation. 

Controversy over Karnes Commissioners Court approval of GEO expansion

On Decemb

Karnes Commissioners Court
Karnes Commissioners Court
er 1st, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the Karnes County Commissioners Court convened for a rapidly summoned special session on the expansion of the GEO-run family detention center, now called the "Karnes County Residential Center." Though the privately operated prison company has already made record profits in the few months since it was granted a contract to detain immigrant families, they are now asking to more than double the facility's capacity from 600 beds to 1300.

Immigrant advocates and attorneys testified about the humanitarian costs of child detention and the sexual assault allegations filed by women in the detention center that are still being invistigated. Other community members were concerned that GEO is attempting to bully Karnes County into approving the expansion, despite forcing the county to shoulder the burden of investigating sexual assault cases and transporting victims. Some also expressed that many jobs were given to people outside the community and the income the county receives from the prison didn't justify the costs. GEO officials claimed that the county is contractually obligated to approve the expansion.

Due to the controversy, the commissioners extended discussion to the December 9th Commissioners Court meeting where they were to vote on the measure. However, after hearing more testimony of human rights abuses, reports of understaffing from a supervisor who works at the GEO facility, and contractual guidance from county attorneys, the decision was once again delayed.

CEC faces lawsuit over sexual assault allegation at Jack Harwell

Jack Harwell Detention Center
Jack Harwell Detention Center
A woman who was previously detained inside Jack Harwell Detention Center in McLennan County recently filed a lawsuit alleging the she was sexually assaulted "on a number of occasions" while incarcerated there from November 2012 to March 2013, as reported by the Waco Tribune.

 

Until June 2013, Jack Harwell was run by private prison corporation Community Education Centers (CEC), now facing a lawsuit alleging gross negligence that led to the conditions that permitted the assaults to take place.

 

According to the plaintiff in the case, CEC's negligence includes the failure to maintain sufficient staff, especially female staff to search female inmates. The suit also alleges that CEC “fostered an unsafe and relatively uncontrolled environment, which allowed smuggling into the facility, improper relations within the facility and generally created an environment where there was a lack of reasonable institutional control at the facility.”

 

Sheriff’s Office Capt. M.R. “Bubba” Colyer confirmed that the allegations remain under investigation. The woman has reported the sexual assaults to the county Sheriff, but no arrest warrent has been issued.

 

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