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Willacy County still reeling after prison uprising as insurance doesn't go far enough for local community

Willacy County Correctional CenterWillacy County is still feeling the effects of an immigrant prisoner uprising that destroyed the privately operated Willacy County Correctional Center in February. The prison, run by Management & Training Corporation (MTC), was closed due to significant structural damage causing the relocation of 2,500 federal prisoners and nearly 400 employee layoffs.

Willacy County Correctional Center

According to recent reports, the county received about $4 milion in insurance money, but county officials say the money won't last long. Currently, the money is being divided four ways — clean up from the uprising, county administration costs, losses to MTC, and payments toward the $9 million bond to pay for the jail. 

In the meantime, hundreds in the community are struggling financially. One employee who was laid off in March said her unemployment compensation is insufficient and she is taking out a loan to help cover her bills. 

The county aims to get the facility up and running again, but the insurance money may not last. And, if the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) decides against renewing the contract, the county could face a big blow to their income. 

 

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MTC loses Bureau of Prisons contract after Willacy riot

According to a KRGV report, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has cancelled their contract with Management and Training Corporation (MTC) at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, TX. 

The KRGV report said, 

"MTC representatives told CHANNEL 5 NEWS the national inmate population is down and the Bureau of Prisons doesn't need the additional beds. There is a 3-day hiring event planned to help workers who were laid off."

The announcement comes after a prisoner riot last month left the facility uninhabitable. The prisoners have all been transferred to other facilities and MTC has laid off 363 employees, which Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence described as "devastating". 

In a statement on BOP's closing of the Willacy prison, the ACLU commented,

MTC to lay off 242 employees in the wake of uprising in Willacy County

Willacy County

In the wake of the uprising at the criminal alien requirement (CAR) prison in Willacy County that left the facility uninhabitable, Management and Training Corporation will reportedly lay off around 242 administrators and guards. Initial reports indicated that around 50 staff would remain at the facility, but the number is now being reported as a meager 25, with those positions under review. The 2,834 inmates have been transferred to other prisons in the CAR system, and the future of the facility is uncertain.

 

Management and Training Corporation purports to have some of the best corrections facilities in the country, and claims that their “facilities are safe and secure for neighboring communities, staff members, offenders, and detainees.” The uprising in late February was a reaction to well documented sanitation issues, physical and sexual abuse, and lack of medical care.

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Prisoners transferred, county government S&P rating downgraded in the wake of uprising at Willacy County

Prisoners at a "criminal alien requirement" (CAR) prison in Willacy County recently protested conditions and medical care at the facility. The prisoners began protesting by refusing breakfast, but then escalated to setting fire to several of the kevlar tents that make up the housing units. Currently, the 2,900 prisoners have begun to be transferred to other Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) facilities throughout the country. 

Management and Training Corporation, the private corporation that runs the facility, has refused to comment on where the prisoners are being moved, citing safety and security as the main reason for the secrecy. The uprising was not surprising to many advocates of prison and immigration reform. An ACLU report released last year detailed squalid conditions, rampant abuse, and little to no medical care at the facility.

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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:

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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." 

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. 

 

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.

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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