Grassroots Leadership Blog

Humpday Hall of Shame: Forgetting the horrors of T. Don Hutto, Obama plots massive increase in immigrant family detention

President Barack Obama will be in Texas this week for a fundraising event in Austin.  He will also be meeting with Texas Governor Rick Perry to discuss the government’s response to an increase in the number of Central American children and families coming to the Texas-Mexico border to seek asylum.  

While many communities in Texas have responded by opening their arms to provide shelter to unaccompanied children, the Obama administration has requested an additional $3.7 billion in money that would mostly be spent on border enforcement, detention, and deportation.  This comes despite the fact that federal spending on immigration enforcement already surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined.  

Included in the supplemental spending request is $897 million to detain and deport refugee families.  Reports have emerged from D.C. that the administration may be considering more than 6,000 new family detention beds, up from only 80 beds currently detaining families.   The administration has already begun sending asylum-seeking refugee families to be housed at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Artisia, New Mexico.   

Apparently, the administration has forgotten the shameful history of family detention in the United States that spans from the Japanese internment to the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.  Families were detained at Hutto - a privately operated prison located just outside Austin - from 2006 to 2009.  During that time reports quickly emerged that children as young as eight months old wore prison uniforms, lived in locked prison cells with open-toilets, were subjected to highly restricted movement, and threatened with alarming disciplinary tactics, including threats of separation from their parents if they cried too much or played too loudly. Medical treatment was inadequate and children as young as one lost weight.  The facility was sued by the ACLU and University of Texas Immigration Law Clinic.

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Idaho kicks Corrections Corporation of America out, but work remains to bring prisoners home

On July 1, 2014, the Idaho Department of Corrections officially took back control of the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) after 14 years of operation under the private, for-profit prison company Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). As the Lewiston Tribune put it in their opinion piece in the Idaho Statesman today, “... after a long, dark chapter, Idaho has cast aside a profit motive more suited to making widgets or selling hamburgers than to warehousing human beings.” 

Kicking CCA and the profit-motive in imprisonment out of the ICC is absolutely a step in the right direction. However, we cannot forget Idaho is not completely rid of CCA quite yet. More than 200 Idaho prisoners remain locked up in a for-profit CCA prison in Burlington, Colorado. Prisoners, their families and loved ones, and Idaho taxpayers continue to pay the price for the state’s failure to prioritize real solutions to prison overcrowding.

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Victory! Austin city council passes S-Comm resolution 7-0

On Thursday, June 26, Austin city council members unanimously passed a resolution to oppose Travis County's participation in Secure Communities. Secure Communities, or S-Comm, is a federal program through which immigrants can be detained in local jails like the Travis County Jail until Immigration and Customs Encorcement (ICE) can take them into custody. The resolution is sponsored by council members Laura Morrison, Mike Martinez and mayor pro-tem Sheryl Cole. No one offered opposing remarks on this resolution. 

Humpday Hall of Shame: TX Health and Human Services Commissioner Janek takes tips from GEO Group on how to privatize mental health hospitals

The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission regularly reviews state agencies to assess functionality and efficiency. This year Texas’ Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) is under review. During its response to the Commission yesterday, Health and Human Services Commissioner Janek felt compelled to use his time in front of legislators to promote privatization of state hospitals which provide voluntary and court-ordered inpatient mental health treatment.

The Sunset Staff Report, which called for immediate action to address the “current crisis in the state mental health hospital system,” did not include recommendations that warrant the privatization of state hospitals. Yet Comm. Janek touted the recent release of a Request for Proposals to run Terrell State Hospital as a supposed solution. "We are in the business of operating facilities when we could contract with someone to operate those facilities,” he began. “I don't feel any hesitation if the private sector can run our facilities, I think they could offer something."

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Obama administration offers poor response to a humanitarian crisis

A disappointing decision by the Obama administration was announced Friday morning in response to a recent influx of Central American migrants crossing through the Southwest border, many of them children. According to officials, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will seek to detain more of these individuals and accelerate their cases in immigration courts to speed up their deportations. Read more about Obama administration offers poor response to a humanitarian crisis

Humpday Hall of Shame: Texas Department of State Health Services plan to privatize Terrell State Hospital

Allies across the state were hoping Texas’ attempts to privatize state hospitals ended in 2012 when Department of State Health Services Commissioner Lakey rejected GEO Group’s bid to take over Kerrville State Hospital. We celebrated that victory in a previous blog post, but now, two years later, DSHS has issued a Request for Proposals for operation of Terrell State Hospital. DSHS plans to award a five-year contract as soon as August 15, 2014.

The RFP raises concerns for various reasons, but most notably because it indicates that eligible applicants “must be an entity with at least three years’ experience operating a Joint Commission-accredited psychiatric inpatient facility and demonstrate the financial strength to operate a large psychiatric hospital.” These requirements narrow the applicant pool considerably, leaving the bidding to only a few large companies, including the for-profit private prison corporation GEO Group, which has a sordid history delivering mental health services in Texas facilities.

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Grassroots Leadership honors Robert H. King of the Angola 3

Last Friday, Grassroots Leadership board and staff spent the evening with Robert H. King, the sole freed member of the Angola 3. We are so profoundly thankful for the opportunity to sit with King as he shared his experience as a political prisoner for 31 years, and to honor him for modeling resilience and hope in the service of social justice.

King, alongside fellow Black Panthers Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, spent 29 years in solitary confinement in the Louisiana Angola Prison after the 1972 killing of a prison guard, despite the absence of any physical evidence linking them to the murder. In truth, the Angola 3 were targeted for their activism and organizing against injustice inside the prison.

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Humpday Hall of Shame: Report exposes outrageous abuse and dangerous quotas inside prisons for migrants

Every year, the federal Bureau of Prisons subjects tens of thousands of immigrants to lengthy prison sentences simply for unlawfully crossing the border. A new report from the ACLU and ACLU of Texas exposes an outrageous level of abuse, neglect and discrimination in these "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) Prisons. Read more about Humpday Hall of Shame: Report exposes outrageous abuse and dangerous quotas inside prisons for migrants

Attorneys sound the alarm as ICE continues to detain immigrants in sub-standard Waco facility

Attorneys in Austin and Waco are sounding the alarm over the conditions at an immigrant detention center in Waco. They say the Jack Harwell Detention Center is not an appropriate place to house immigrants in detention and that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have not done enough to fix serious problems at the facility. 

“Our interest in the Harwell Detention Center stems from a history of concerns about the facility.” said Denise Gilman, a University of Texas-Austin law professor.  “There were strong incentives for the county and the private facility management company to seek contracts with ICE whether or not the facility was appropriate for immigration detention.”

In fact, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found multiple non-compliance issues at the facility in 2012. The facility is run by a private prison company who expected that the federal government would supply enough immigrant detainees to ensure that the facility was profitable. 

“If any facility is unable to comply with the standards, ICE should ensure that immigrants are not detained there.” said Barbara Hines, also a University of Texas law professor. “It does not appear that ICE officials adequately considered the situation at the facility before sending immigration detainees there.”

According to ICE’s own proclamations, a penal environment is not appropriate for immigrant detainees — the majority of whom have recently crossed the border and have no criminal history at all. “It is very clearly a penal institution,” added Hines. 

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