Seven things to know about uprising at Texas private prison for immigrants

2009 "Tent City" Protest This weekend, a private prison incarcerating immigrant prisoners in Willacy County, Texas erupted into a major uprising.  While most of the media over the weekend has focused narrowly on the uprising itself (with some notable exceptions, including this excellent article from Fusion), incarcerated immigrants and advocates have for years been warning that these prisons are tinderboxes of horrendous conditions waiting to explode (and at times have already done so).  Here are some things about the Willacy County Correctional Center and the context of incarcerating immigrants in substandard private prisons that has made these facilities so very dangerous.  
1) The Willacy facility was so plagued with abuse and mismanagement that ICE ended its contract.  The Willacy County Correctional Center was formerly an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracted detention center where sexual and physical abuse and medical neglect were so rampant that ICE ended its contract in 2011.  Immigration advocates regularly protested the facility and a Maria Hinojosa-reported exposé for Frontline was one of the many pieces denoting the appalling conditions at Willacy.  
2) The facility is now contracted by the Bureau of Prisons as one of the agency's notorious "CAR" prisons.   Just months after ICE ended its contract, the BOP began sending immigrants convicted of crimes — many for re-entering the United States after deportation — to the facility.  Willacy is now one of 13 "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) facilities contracted by the agency.  CAR facilities are privately-operated prisons within the BOP where immigrant prisoners are segregated into facilities that even the agency admits are substandard.  The ACLU's excellent report on CAR prisons in Texas last year documented just some of the abysmal conditions that plague these prisons. 
3) The facility is nicknamed "Tent City" or "Ritmo."  While an ICE contracted facility, the Willacy detention center was dubbed Tent City by local advocates and the media because two thirds of the facility is built out of a series of Kevlar pods.  The facility was also designated Ritmo (or Raymondville's Guantanamo) in the media because of its enormous size and appalling conditions. 
4) This is at least the third major uprising at CAR private prison in recent years.  An uprising that led to the death of a guard and many injured immigrant prisoners at the Corrections Corporation of America CAR facility in Adams County, Mississippi in 2012 was brought about by poor conditions detailed in this report by Justice Strategies.  Another uprising at the Reeves County, Texas CAR facility operated by private prison corporation GEO Group in 2008 followed the death of prisoner Jesus Manuel Galindo and was covered excellently by the Texas Observer amongst other media outlets. 
5) CAR facilities are horrible places, but insanely profitable for private prison corporations.  The contract for the Willacy County Correctional Center with the BOP is worth more than half a billion dollars over the course of the 10 year contract.  
6) CAR prisons are expanding because the government is criminally prosecuting immigrants en masse at the border.  Even at a time of bipartisan support for federal criminal justice reforms, mass prosecutions of immigrants for crossing the border continue.  In fact, since the initiation of "Operation Streamline" in the mid-2000s, two simple immigration charges have become the most prosecuted offenses in the federal court system, accounting for than 90,000 criminal prosecutions in 2013.  Recently, the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination called for the abolition of Operation Streamline, and the end to the criminal prosecution of what were once civil immigration offenses. 
7) Willacy County is a prison community that deeply indebted itself to build private prisons.  Willacy County, through a quasi-governmental agency called a Public Facilities Corporation, floated tens of millions of dollars in debt in the mid-2000s to build private prisons.  Raymondville is home to three neighboring private prisons, the 2,800-bed BOP CAR facility contracted to MTC that erupted this weekend, the neighboring 500-bed Willacy County Regional Detention Center operated by MTC under a U.S. Marshals contract, and the 1,000-bed Willacy State Jail, now operated by Corrections Corporation of America.  The Willacy State Jail was previously operated by private prison corporation GEO Group and was where Gregorio de la Rosa was brutally beaten to death in 2001 as guards looked on.  De la Rosa's death led to to the perhaps the largest lawsuit settlement against a private prison in U.S. history. 


Thanks for this excellent and to-the-point backdrop. The context you provide is so important--and necessary--if we are to make any headway in defeating punitive detention policies and the state's reliance on mass incarceration.

Well I was at Willacy and other GEO facillities like LCS as well in falfurias. And the via television hearings work to your disasvatage. Not only was presured by the living conditions and force racism,but; they also violated my human rights,and they mishandled my case in federal court and immigration court. I was there incarcerated from 8/2011to 9/2014.

This information gels perfectly with what we here at this end – when we meet detainees coming out of the detention facilities here in the San Francisco Bay area who tell us stories of their incarceration in various previous places. Our entire system needs an overhaul and it can't come too soon. We have a precious 14-year-old girl in sanctuary with our little congregation, and she lived through hell.

Thank you very much for filling in some information on this situation, and also your references. The idea of a for-profit prison is so inherently awful, and the reality is even worse.

Is there some way I can get hold of you, Alex? You can email me at:
fsmith (at) kanokla (dot) net

I've been fighting the for-profit prison industry for 19 years.

Thanks very much