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ICE Makes Changes to Hutto, Lays Groundwork for Expansion of Family Detention

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Recent media reports at the T. Don Hutto detention center, a prison owned by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), highlight changes to the private prison.  The notorious Hutto facility has been the target of numerous protests and a lawsuit as a result of its use to incarcerate immigrant families; some detainees as young as  newborns.  Press reports state that government officials are using a media blitz to lay the groundwork for additional family detention facilities that will be added to federal prison capacity over the next year.

According to an article in the San Antonio Express-News, reporter Hernán Rozemberg states:

Mired in controversy since its opening in May 2006, the 512-bed center has been through several makeovers. Administrators opened it for a swift media tour Tuesday to show how much has changed since the first tour 14 months ago.

Last year, the use of family detention at the private prison was resulted in litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas Law School.  The lawsuit settlement required CCA, which contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Williamson County, to meet comply with several standards that change the conditions of confinement at the prison.

ICE officials, like Gary Mead, stated in an Austin American-Statesman article written by Juan Castillo, that they learned a lot as they moved to lock up children and their parents:

"Candidly, when (Hutto) opened, we were new to the family residential facility business. We learned a lot," Gary Mead, acting director for detention and removal at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said Tuesday.

As a result the changes required by the settlement and to improve public relations, the private prison recently opened its doors to the media to advertise changes underway at the facility.  Despite any aesthetic changes and additions of certain amenities, the facility in Taylor, Texas is fundamentally still a prison. 

Specifically, certain structures such as cell walls and the location of toilets in the space where someone sleeps cannot be altered.  However, that does prevent the news media from participating in the coordinated public relations campaign According to news reports those changes include:

  • Metal toilets changed to porcelain;
  • Curtains to surround the toilet and shower area;
  • Eliminating the razor wire that surrounds the private prison;
  • Outdoor recreation area that includes two soccer fields, a volleyball court, and tow playgrounds;
  • Exercise area including treadmills and stationary bikes;;
  • Planned fieldtrips for the children who are imprisoned; and
  • Salad bar and a "hot bar" in the cafeteria — and the more homestyle recipes are a hit with the mostly Central American detainees thanks to one of them working as a cook.

Regardless of these changes, Hutto continues to be a private prison.  What continues to be disturbing is that ICE is going to expand the policy of locking up families.  Once again this represents a failed social policy as the United States continues to rely on incarceration even though Congress has insisted on alternatives to family detention.

Given that ICE is implying that they are looking to expand family detention capacity, we will monitor these developments.