Willacy County

ACLU Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) Report: Willacy County Correctional Center

The Willacy County Detention Facility in Raymondville, Texas is the third criminal alien requirement (CAR) facility covered in the ACLU's recent report about abuses inside such facilities. The prison in Willacy County is operated by the Management and Training Corporation (MTC) as per the company's contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). This facility is also known at "Tent City" because detained people actually live in tents. 

The ACLU found that the detained men lived in in extremely tight and unclean quarters which, along with the lack of educational or occupational activities, presents an environment that is not safe for incarcerated people or prison staff. Tensions can, and often do, arise quickly between the detained men, who are bored. Prisoners report that there are 200 beds packed into each Kevlar tent, with only three feet between each bed. There are only five toilets, which are exposed with no walls or curtains, and only eight televisions. Prisoners also reported that spiders and insects come in through holes in the tents and bite them. Uniforms are allegedly washed without detergent and are washed with mops and other cleaning supplies. The men attempt to keep their areas clean with the two ounces of solution allocated to each tent. One prisoner recounted, "They treat us like animals." 

The stench from the five exposed toilets, which reportedly overflow and leave a putrid smell in the tents, provoked prisoners to strike in July 2013 when staff initially refused to repair them. The toilets were fixed later that day, but strike organizers were taken to solitary as punishment. 

The report also alleges that solitary confinement is overused at Willacy. Prisoners report that, of the 3,000 men detained at  there, 300 are held in the SHU at all times. Extreme isolation causes some men mental distress, which can manifest itself in screaming and kicking doors, suicide and self-harm. Showers in the SHU are only available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Recreation, which is available for an hour each day, takes place in an enclosure with fencing on all sides and on top. New arrivals, as well as men who claimed that they had not done anything to merit being placed in the SHU, were sent there due to the lack of room in the tents. Such small requests as asking for new shoes and food could result in a prisoner being sent to the SHU. 

Willacy staff also deny prisoners medical care. Zavier, 52, who was formerly incercerated at the Eden CAR prison, has been denied medical care for an infected vericose vein on his ankle, which has led to discoloration and swelling. He has also been denied dentures at Willacy after having his teeth removed because of an infection at Eden. Preventative dental care is not provided at Willacy in order to cut costs. The only method of treatment for infection or cavities is extraction. Zavier recounts that a guard once yelled, "Don't forget that you're a prisoner here! And that the medicines you get here are given to you for free!" Others who report medical problems are often given Tylenol and sent away. Santiago, 45, who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C while at Eden, had not yet received treatment at the time of his interview with the ACLU. He had waited two years. 

Texas Prison Bidness writers have covered Tent City in the past. Check out our coverage of protests, the facility's transition from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility to one mangaged by the BOP, and guard misconduct at the facility. 

Willacy County Commissioners "took no action" regarding lawsuit

The Valley Morning Star reported last week that Willacy County Commissioners discussed the lawsuit pending against Houston-based Hale Mills Construction and took no action. The lawsuit first came to light and we wrote about it in our May 2 post. 

Commissioner Eliberto Guerra claimed that the county will take Hale Mills to mediation the lawsuit, which accuses Hale Mills of of "poor workmanship." Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the private prison company that operates the $14.5 million Willacy County Jail and is contracted to house US Marhsals prisoners, is being sued alongside Hale Mills. 

 

Private Profit, Public Debt … The Story of Willacy County's Tent City

The Bureau of Prisons and Management and Training Corp. of Utah (MTC) recently announced a $532 million deal to convert “tent city” in Willacy County from a facility contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement into a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facility.  The first wave of new prisoners have begun to arrive ("New prisoners begin arriving at 'tent city'" McAllen Monitor, October 10).  Under the new agreement, the Willacy facility will continue to be managed by MTC and will house immigrant prisoners convicted of federal crimes exclusively. 

This is great news for MTC.  As an MTC representative stated, “[t]he Bureau of Prisons has good contract system; they need beds, we need the stability” ("New jail contract described as a win-win deal for county, MTC," Raymondville Chronicle, June 22).  Unfortunately, while this may be good news for MTC, Willacy County, that funded the construction of the facility through revenue bonds issued by a Public Facilities Corporation, continues to receive the short end of the stick. 

Under the Willacy County’s first contract with MTC, the facility housed undocumented immigrants under an agreement with ICE and, according to Willacy County Judge John Gonzales, “the income the county had hoped to gain from the facility fell far short of expectations.”  In fact, the facility never reached 50% capacity (Monitor, October 10).  To add to the county’s loss, earlier this year MTC handed out pink slips to almost 20% of its local staff.  Under the new plan to convert the facility into a BOP unit, MTC will reduce its local staff by more than 32% below the number of employees it had prior to handing out pink slips (Raymondville Chronicle, June 22). 

Under the new agreement, the county will receive a minimum of $104,900 a month, much more than the $970,000 the county received from ICE over the past year.  While this may seem like a lot of money, it will only put a small dent in the outstanding debt obligation of $75 million (after the most recent refinancing goes through) incurred by the county to finance the facility’s construction (Raymondville Chronicle, June 22).  

Things must be really bad in Willacy if this deal can be reported as a win for the county.

Settlement reached in record-breaking lawsuit against GEO Group

A settlement was reached last month in a record-breaking lawsuit against the GEO Group in the beating death of Willacy County inmate Gregario de la Rosa in 2001, according to the Brownsville Herald ("Beating death lawsuit ends in settlement," 

A settlement agreement has been reached in the Willacy County civil case involving the prison firm Wackenhut Corrections Corp., known as the GEO Group, and Warden David Forrest in the beating death of Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. of Laredo.

The de la Rosa’s case involves one of the largest wrongful death judgments in the country. The judgment was in excess of $40 million.

The monetary settlement reached between the private prison group, former warden, insurers and de la Rosa’s family is being kept confidential, however.

"I am pleased to have brought justice to the de la Rosa family and am honored to have made a positive contribution to Texas law for the future protection of our people," said Laredo attorney Ron Rodriguez, who represented the de la Rosa family.

De la Rosa's death involved a brutal beating that was subsequently found to have been covered up by the GEO Group.  From the article,

The agreement follows a scathing opinion that the Thirteenth Court of Appeals issued in April. The appellate court rebuked the prison firm and warden, and affirmed the 2006 civil judgment that a Willacy County jury returned in excess of $40 million against the prison firm and Forrest for negligently causing de la Rosa Jr.’s death.

De la Rosa, according to the opinion, was beaten to death while prison officials first watched and later tried to cover up by losing and destroying evidence.

"We find that Wackenhut’s conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for this state’s civil justice system," the appellate court noted in its opinion. A few days before de la Rosa’s expected release from the Raymondville facility, two inmates beat the 33-year-old man to death on April 26, 2001.

The inmates used a lock tied to a sock while "Wackenhut’s officers stood by and watched and Wackenhut’s wardens smirked and laughed," the opinion observed.

It's nice to know that the family of de la Rosa has some closure in this clearly appalling case.

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