“What happens if you privatize prisons is that you have a large industry with a vested interest in building ever-more prisons.” -- Molly Ivins, 2003

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Idaho prisoners moved to Texas (again)

Despite a history of catastrophe, CBS reported that 250 prisoners from Idaho will be transferred to Karnes County Correctional Center in Karnes City, Texas. The article cited a shortage of prison beds in Idaho as the state’s reason for the transfer. The Karnes County Correctional Center is operated by private prison corporation GEO Group. As we have previously reported, the long-distance separation of prisoners from their families can have devastating impacts.

The transfer of prisoners from Idaho to Texas, described as the GEO Group ‘shell game,’ was ended previously when two prisoners from Idaho died in two separate GEO Group facilities. These facilities were described as “squalid” and “horribly understaffed.”

One of those incidents took the life of Scot Noble Payne, who committed suicide in GEO’s Dickens County Detention Center after spending a year in solitary confinement. In 2007, Payne’s mother filed suit against the Idaho Department of Corrections for $500,000, the maximum amount allowed under the state law. For full coverage of Idaho to Texas prisoner transfer, see our archive here.

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Immigration advocates rally to include detainees in #MeToo

National media drew attention to stories of sexual assault in Texas detention facilities in January as part of the #MeToo movement. On January 8, the Associated Press published an article detailing the rampant issue of sexual abuse in detention facilities nationally and the failure of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate of these claims. The article highlights the story of Laura Monterrosa, who came forward publicly on November 9 to speak out against sexual assault at T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas run by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA).

The article details that according to the advocacy organization CIVIC, between May 2014 and July 2016, DHS received 1,043 complaints of sexual abuse, and “investigated less than 3 percent of the sexual abuse complaints it received during that same time period.” Many instances of abuse also go unreported due to threat of retaliation against victims who file a complaint. Speaking from her experience, Laura Monterrosa said, "Women are forced to do what they say or stay silent out of fear." Monterrosa was joined by two other women who also spoke out against sexual assault they experienced while detained at T. Don Hutto detention center. According to the article, four reports of sexual abuse were filed by women detained at Hutto in the last fiscal year, and the facility is known for abuse in the past.

Despite alleged protection for those who speak out under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, Monterrosa has faced increasing retaliation. The FBI has an open investigation on Monterrosa’s case. Advocates are calling for her release so "she can live in peace and recover from this new trauma she experienced at the hands of those responsible for ensuring her safety.” We will continue reporting on this developing story.

Women Stuck in Hutto Detention Center

The Austin Chronicle reported in January that female asylum seekers are being detained in Hutto Detention Center without a court date. As we reported about the backlog in immigration cases in Laredo this month, the San Antonio court currently faces a 31-month lag in court dates for immigrants with 26,460 cases are currently pending. This number marks “a new high,” according to the Trans­ac­tion­al Records Access Clearing­house.

Meanwhile, the Austin Chronicle article shared the story of women like Celia (a pseudonym) who has no hearing date for her asylum case. Her lawyer Virginia Raymond says that she sees Celia carrying "utter despair."

Sofia Casini, immigration programs coordinator with Grassroots Leadership, commented that this situation represents a departure from a usual backlog. "There aren't too many cases on the docket; there's hundreds of cases not on the docket. That's not normal in any legal context… They are getting no information at all about essentially their life sentence," Casini said. "It's hard to explain just how completely unjust and abnormal that is."

While the Trump administration plans to increase detention capacity and add more immigration judges to fix the system, Casini commented that the ultimate goal is for closure of detention facilities. "The system is unnecessary and unjust in the first place. All these women locked up in Hutto don't need to be there. There are friends, family, and community groups like Casa Marianella here in Austin that can take them in. Instead, they are trapped in a cell, and left in the dark,” she said.

The article also commented that private prison giant CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA) will profit from the disarray of the legal system. Last fall, “CoreCivic's CEO said ICE expects the average length of detentions to jump as a result of increased interior enforcement, an outcome that benefits their profit margin.”

Meanwhile, the FBI’s investigation of sexual assault in Hutto Detention Center is pending and Laura Monterrosa remains detained after she spoke out in November against abuse by a CoreCivic guard.

Image source: Tray Frazier, Grassroots Leadership

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Detainees Lost in Court in Laredo

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The Texas Tribune reported in collaboration with the Marshall Project and This American Life that immigration court in Laredo has lost track of immigrants’ files. The court’s disarray took place in the Laredo Processing Center operated by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA).

In the case of asylum seeker Oscar Arnulfo Ramírez, the court clerk lost record that he was still detained. “It’s as if he’s non-existent,” Ramírez, lawyer, Paola Tostado, told the Texas Tribune. “He’s still in a detention center… But there’s no proceeding going on. He’s just sitting there doing completely nothing.” Tostado also reported in December that she had two other clients delayed in their hearings with no court date “for more than seven months.

Reporters spent one week in the facility in October and found that detainees were “lost in the system for months on end,” prolonging their detention and leading to chaos in the small, windowless courtroom. “Hearing schedules were erratic, case files went missing,” the article stated.

The backlog of immigration cases, especially along the Texas/Mexico border, has kept populations high in privately owned detention centers.

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