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U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General

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.

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Federal prisons have fewer inmates but Justice Dept. says it still needs private prisons

Even though the federal prison population is falling, the Justice Department says private prisons are still necessary, reports the Washington Post.

Last August, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would begin to phase out the use of private prisons. Yates cited sentencing reforms and other measures that had reduced the federal prison population. Officials in the Justice Department even pointed to a recent White House budget proposal which showed a 14 percent drop in the federal prison population since 2013. If the prison population has dropped since 2013, why has Attorney General Sessions reversed the DOJ's memo phasing out private prisons?

David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, said that of the decision, "the embrace of private prisons was a purely ideological decision unconnected to any actual need.”Fathi said the Justice Department officials knew there would be an increase in the prisoner population.

"The fact that they are simultaneously acknowledging that the federal prison population is falling and saying that they need private prisons to accommodate future needs seems to me can only be explained by a plan to radically increase the federal prison population,” Fathi said. “Otherwise, those two things are just irreconcilable.”

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Five Private Prisons in Texas to Lose Contracts

Department of Justice Seal

Five private prisons in Texas will lose their contracts following the Department of Justice (DOJ) announcement to phase out the use of private prisons, according to The Texas Tribune.

 

The announcement came after the inspector general of the DOJ recently concluded in a report that federal prisons operated by private companies have greater issues with contraband and inmate discipline than those run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The office noted that "In recent years, disturbances in several federal contract prisons resulted in extensive property damage, bodily injury, and the death of a correctional officer."

Multiple incidents in Texas were among those driving the DOJ decision.

Two riots broke out in 2009 at the Reeves County Detention Center, operated by GEO Group. In 2011 prisoners attacked staff at the Big Spring Correctional Center, which is operated by GEO Group. Then in 2015, the Bureau of Prisons ended its contract with Management and Training Corporation for the Willacy County Correctional Center after prisoners set fires and damaged property beyond the company’s ability to maintain federal standards.

Shares for Corrections Corporation of America dropped 35% after the announcement, while shares for GEO Group dropped 39%

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Federal audit finds the Reeves County Detention Complex rife with problems

Reeves County Detention Center
Reeves County Detention Center
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General, the Reeves County Detention Complex, also known as the world’s largest for-profit prison, has “minimal oversight, overcharged the federal government by $2.1 million, arbitrarily punishes protesting inmates and suffers from severe understaffing.”

Reeves County Detention Complex is run by private prison corporation, the GEO Group, and holds almost 4,000 mostly undocumented federal prisoners who are serving time for federal drug and immigration-related offenses.

The report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) had asked GEO Group to eliminate minimum staffing requirements for correctional officers, medical care providers and other personnel—a move that saved the Bureau nearly $10 million. “BOP officials told us they removed these staffing requirements to achieve cost savings and grant the contractor flexibility and discretion to manage the staffing of the facility,” the report states.

The cash saving measure is hardly worth it, Reeves has experienced riots, complaints of inadequate medical care and allegations that prison officials use solitary confinement to retaliate against prisoners who complain. The prison has been the stage of several riots, including two in late 2008 and early 2009 that caused over $1 million in damage. An alleged hunger strike occurred in March of this year when several prisoners claimed they were put in solitary confinement for seeking legal representation.

According to the Texas Observer, health service-providers, Correct Care Solutions LLC, has failed to reach BOP’s requirement to maintain staffing levels at 85 percent for 90 percent of the last three years.

The audit also criticized the GEO Group for arbitrarily sending prisoners into the “J-Unit”— a solitary confinement which was created after a round of inmate protests in October 2013. After the protest, 364 inmates were sent to Reeves’ solitary confinement unit, which was originally designed for only 210.

Audit investigators discovered that 9 out of 10 of those prisoners sent after the protest did not meet the prison’s own criteria to be put into solitary confinement. The audit listed several recommendations for the prison, including the remedying of unallowable costs of over $2 million, the assurance that policies and procedures be established for the J-Unit and the emphasis on improving the prison’s monitoring system. The rest can be viewed on page 44 of the audit here.

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