Grassroots Leadership In The News

Mar 26, 2015
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NPR

Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

When the U.S. Bureau of Prisons canceled its contract with Willacy County last week, it explained that the federal inmate population was down, and it didn't need additional beds.

Criminal justice trends ebb and flow. Bob Libal tracks the corrections industry for the Austin activist group Grassroots Leadership. He says where once it was easy to find inmates for a private prison, Willacy County will likely learn now it's tougher to fill prison beds.

"Around the state we have seen several communities that have had their private prisons fail and they're left holding the bag when it comes to the debt that they floated," he says. Read more about Closure Of Private Prison Forces Texas County To Plug Financial Gap

Mar 23, 2015
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attn:

Texas Private Prison Closed After Rioting Over Poor Conditions

Last week, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it would terminate its contract with the privately run Texas prison where inmates rioted last month––setting part of the facility on fire––over substandard healthcare, among other abhorrent conditions there. 

But observers warn that while there has been an encouraging drop in the number of drug-related incarcerations, the specter of immigration incarceration remains a national priority.

"It's certainly true that there's been a drop in the number of people detained that areincarcerated for drug offenses because of some of the reforms that have been implemented by the Department of Justice," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told ATTN:. "But what hasn't changed dramatically is a change in the incarceration of immigrants for migration crimes...particularly reentering the country after being deported, which is the second most prosecuted crime in the entire federal system."

"For us, the closure of Willacy is a good thing––the very first step in what we hope are reforms of the prison system that include shuttering all of these CAR contract facilities...continuing drug reforms, but also reforms to the prioritization of immigration prosecution," Libal said. Read more about Texas Private Prison Closed After Rioting Over Poor Conditions

Mar 9, 2015
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The Daily Texan

Immigrant women likely to encounter violence after crossing the border, panelists say

"The LBJ School of Public Affairs held a conference Friday to discuss violence immigrant women face along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Austin-area immigrants and people in careers affiliated with immigration addressed issues such as rape, domestic violence and other forms of violence experienced by women coming to United States from Central and South America. Speakers also addressed issues concerning women in U.S. immigrant detention centers.

Many women emigrating from their home countries have been victims of violence, and that victimization often continues after they arrive in the U.S., according to Laurie Cook Heffron, researcher program coordinator at UT’s Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault." Read more about Immigrant women likely to encounter violence after crossing the border, panelists say

Mar 9, 2015
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Al Jazeera America

Video visitation threatens to put more distance between inmates and family

Lauren Johnson spent a month as an inmate at the Travis County Correctional Complex, near Austin, back before in-person visitation was eliminated entirely in 2013. Johnson, now an advocate for prison reform, said her husband made sure to schedule in-person visits and avoid the video terminals so that their three children could see her in the flesh. “It’s not something you can quantify,” she said. “Eye contact is a huge deal. It’s blowing them kisses and putting your hand to the glass. The kids get lost with the video terminals. It’s just not the same experience. It’s a disconnected feeling.” Read more about Video visitation threatens to put more distance between inmates and family

Mar 6, 2015
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Quartz

Prison reform is making life inside prison worse, not better

Our friend Jorge Antonio Renaud, from the Center for Community Change, reflects on prison reform.

"The Willacy CCC protest was actually the third major revolt reported at a Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facility since 2008, points out Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an organization that advocates against for-profit incarceration. Grassroots Leadership has long chronicled the all-too-often violent history of privately-run prisons, but few in the public or government actually listen to the organizations that scramble to monitor and report on overall prison conditions. Living environments protested by Willacy prisoners—like cramped living quarters, sewage-contaminated showers and drinking water, vermin- and bug-infested food, and solitary confinement misused as punishment merely for speaking out—had already been described as problems in privately-run immigrant prisons by a 2014 ACLU report, to little effect." Read more about Prison reform is making life inside prison worse, not better

Feb 28, 2015
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truthout

Private Prison Companies Foresee Increased Profits as Ruling Limits Immigrant Detentions

"'The ACLU ruling is a terrific first step, but it doesn't necessarily mean that the government can't detain families for other reasons. They just can't use [deterrence] justifications,' said Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, which works to end for-profit incarceration.

Representatives from Grassroots Leadership pointed out that the Obama administration can continue to incarcerate asylum-seeking families from Central American countries by suggesting the families are a threat to national security.

'What we've said is that what the [Obama] administration should do is immediately cancel the expansion plans of the Karnes facility and the Dilley facility ... in the wake of this ruling,' Libal said. 'It makes no sense, when the court has undermined the basic tenets of the mass family detention policy, for the administration to be continuing to funnel money into the expansion plans for these two facilities.'

Texans United for Families (TUFF) is also joining Grassroots Leadership in calling for the Obama administration to close the immigrant-family jails at Karnes and Dilley and to prioritize release of undocumented families by focusing on community-based alternatives to incarceration. 'The court spoke clearly last week,' said TUFF's Peggy Morton in a press release. 'There is only one right move left for the administration: To free the families.'" Read more about Private Prison Companies Foresee Increased Profits as Ruling Limits Immigrant Detentions

Feb 27, 2015
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Dallas Observer

South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful

"Why did a few thousand immigrants imprisoned in South Texas riot last week against the nice private prison corporation that was housing them? Management and Training Corp.'s (MTC) version of events is that its inmates 'refused to participate in regular work duties or attend breakfast early Friday morning,' which certainly seems like an unreasonable thing for an inmate to do.

The inmates then somehow broke out of their housing units, forcing the company to bring in multiple government agencies to lock the place down and also forcing a partial lock-down of the local school district in Willacy County.

MTC had been running its prison under a contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, housing illegal immigrants in pre-detention, but in 2011 things went haywire. In a PBS report, a former health worker at the prison testified to 'women harassed for sexual favors, guards taking detainees and beating them, running them down like they were animals,' among other abuses. That year, ICE canceled its contract with the corporation, leaving MTC's 3,174 beds severely underused.

That is, they were underused briefly. Not long after, MTC and Willacy County arranged a contract with the Bureau of Prisons for a facility that would be an upgrade, of sorts: it would become a Criminal Alien Requirement prison, or CAR prison, for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally or convicted of felonies. There are 13 such prisons in the United States, five in Texas. 'We know them to be the worst of the worst," says Cristina Parker, who covers immigration for the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. "They don't meet the federal standards the way that even very bad federal prisons do.'" Read more about South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful

Feb 24, 2015
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The Nation

A 2-Day Revolt at a Texas Private Prison Reveals Everything That’s Wrong with Criminalizing Immigration

"The latest uprising at the Willacy County Correctional Center began quietly on Friday morning, when prisoners refused to go to their work assignments or to breakfast. Then, inmates broke out of the massive Kevlar tents that serve as dorms. Willacy County Sheriff Larry Spence told reporters some had kitchen knives, sharpened mops and brooms. Prison officials sprayed tear gas; a SWAT team, the Texas Rangers, the FBI and the US Border Patrol all showed up. It took two days to quell the demonstration. Now administrators are beginning to transfer the 2,800 prisoners—undocumented immigrants, most serving time for low-level offenses—to other facilities, because the protest made the center 'uninhabitable.'

CAR prisons are distinct from the detention facilities maintained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, but they aren’t run like most BOP facilities either. Most CAR prisoners don’t have access to attorneys, and because the BOP assumes they will be deported after serving their time, they are denied some services and considerations afforded to others in the corrections system, such as work training or drug treatment programs. Bob Libal, the executive director of a Texas prison reform group called Grassroots Leadership, explained the BOP’s reasoning: 'In a system with scarce resources, why should we be giving them to immigrants who are just going to get deported?'" Read more about A 2-Day Revolt at a Texas Private Prison Reveals Everything That’s Wrong with Criminalizing Immigration

Feb 23, 2015
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Vice

Texas Private Prison Left 'Uninhabitable' After Immigrant Detainees Riot Over Poor Conditions

"A riot that broke out last week left a private prison in Texas 'uninhabitable,' forcing the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to begin relocating nearly 3,000 inmates held at the facility.

The rioting began during breakfast Friday morning at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, about 40 miles from the Mexican border. The inmates — mostly immigrants held for non-violent offenses — broke out into the recreation yard and set fire to three Kevlar tents that each housed about 200 men.

'It should of no surprise to anyone that this happened at Willacy," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told VICE News. "This is a facility that for years has been plagued by physical and sexual abuse and neglect, and it's really a place where immigrants are incarcerated and warehoused by a private prison corporation that's making hundreds of millions of dollars off of their incarceration, and clearly investing very little of it for the people that are detained there.'" Read more about Texas Private Prison Left 'Uninhabitable' After Immigrant Detainees Riot Over Poor Conditions

Feb 23, 2015
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Free Speech Radio News

Immigration: conditions spark uprising in Texas prison; court orders women/children seeking asylum freed

Prison officials in Texas are in the process of transferring around 2800 inmates from the Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville after a prisoner uprising over the weekend reportedly left the tent city prison complex “uninhabitable.”

The prison started off as a facility for holding civil immigration detainees, but lost its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement after repeated and persistent reports of abuse and substandard conditions. The company that owns and operates the facility — Management & Training Corp —  later won a massive contract with the federal Bureau of Prisons to hold non-citizens convicted of criminal offenses.

The uprising in the Raymondville prison camp came on the same day a federal judge ruled against holding mothers and children in immigration detention while awaiting the outcome of asylum claims.

Says Bob Libal, "This facility is operated by the private prison corporation, Management and Training Corporation, which is a Utah-based company, but the others are operated by the giant private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group.

These are facilities that have a long record of really abysmal conditions. In fact, the facility where the uprising happened this weekend was so plagued with abuse and mismanagement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement actually ended its contract in 2011, but then the Bureau of Prisons stepped in a gave this facility a new contract worth more than half a billion dollars to incarcerate 2800 immigrants on any given day in a series of Kevlar pods. The facility is nicknamed “tent city” or “Ritmo” – the Raymondville Gitmo – because of both the appalling conditions and just how huge of an incarceration camp it is." Read more about Immigration: conditions spark uprising in Texas prison; court orders women/children seeking asylum freed

Feb 8, 2015
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truthout

"Operation Streamline": The New Prison Boom

"'The war on immigrants is surpassing efforts to reform the war on drugs,' said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice advocacy group. 'We will not be able to reduce the federal prison population unless we stop prosecuting so many people for immigration violations.'

Things are looking grim for immigrants due to provisions in immigration legislation passed by the Senate in June, and more stringent measures being considered by the House that would increase arrests and prosecutions of those crossing the border. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Senate immigration legislation estimated that increased funding for enforcement and prosecution of undocumented immigrants in the bill would result in an additional 14,000 inmates per year in the federal prison system, at a cost of $1.6 billion over the next decade." Read more about "Operation Streamline": The New Prison Boom

Feb 4, 2015
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Houston Chronicle

Quong-Charles and Renaud: Video-only visitation bad for inmates, county

While video technologies expand opportunities for communication, they are not the same as face-to-face visits. These opportunities are not worth embracing if they replace face-to-face visitation, which has happened in at least eight Texas counties. We are especially wary of the profit motive of private corporations delivering these services and the imposition of hardships on financially vulnerable people who will be driven to use them to see their incarcerated loved ones. Read more about Quong-Charles and Renaud: Video-only visitation bad for inmates, county

Feb 3, 2015
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Vice

Inside the Small California Town with a Lot of Prisons, but Not Much Opportunity

"Companies that develop prisons, both for public and private operation, actively seek out economically depressed towns like Adelanto because they make for easier sells than places that might have other options.

'When the corporations pick up that a town is economically struggling, they come in promising economic security, jobs, and other benefits,' said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an NGO working to end for-profit incarceration. 'Affluent cities have the power to say no. That option doesn't really exist in smaller, depressed cities.'

And when a facility closes down, it saddles local government with the responsibility of dealing with the abandoned prison infrastructure and the erasure of whatever income the facility provided." Read more about Inside the Small California Town with a Lot of Prisons, but Not Much Opportunity

Jan 22, 2015
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Reason

No Asylum: Immigrants Locked Up in U.S. after Fleeing Violence

 

"Headlines screamed of a "border crisis" as unaccompanied minors began arriving in record numbers in the summer of 2014, sparking protests in border towns like Murrieta, CA from citizens who wanted the newly arrived immigrants sent back to where they came from. The administration's response was to request $879 million from Congress to detain and deport. Congress denied the funds, but Homeland Security forged ahead with the construction of several new "family detention centers" anyway. The number of beds grew from fewer than 100 to more than 1,000 in less than a year. And a newly constructed center in Dilley, TX will have a capacity of more than 2,000.

Watch the Reason TV piece for a glimpse at who exactly is being held in these detention centers at record rates." Read more about No Asylum: Immigrants Locked Up in U.S. after Fleeing Violence

Jan 13, 2015
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The Texas Observer

Five Issues to Watch as the Show Unfolds at the 84th Legislature

Grassroots Leadership's Cristina Parker speculates about the type of legislation immigrant rights groups are going to be fighting during the 84th Texas legislative session. 

“The general consensus among immigrant rights groups and advocates is that we’re going to see sanctuary city bills [allowing police to ask for immigration status] and legislation doing away with in-state tuition for undocumented students, among other things. I think both chambers are going to be rough.” Read more about Five Issues to Watch as the Show Unfolds at the 84th Legislature

Dec 19, 2014
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WFAA

Deal in discussion to privatize Terrell State Hospital

"The winning bidder is Correct Care Recovery Solutions. It is a subsidiary of a larger company which provides health care in jail and prison settings.

Bob Libal is an opponent of privatizing state hospitals. He is the executive director of Grassroots Leadership.

"We don't believe that a private prison corporations should be running state hospitals," Libal said." Read more about Deal in discussion to privatize Terrell State Hospital

Dec 18, 2014
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WBAI 99.5 FM

Advocates discuss new family detention center in Dilley, Texas

Grassroots Leadership's Cristina Parker tells WBAI host Donald Anthonyson about the new privately-run family detention center in Dilley, Texas and abuses coming out of the Karnes County Residential Center, a GEO-run detention center that began detaining families this summer. Christina Fialho and Christina Mansfield of CIVIC talk about their work establishing immigrant vistitation programs, the injustices of the legal system immigrants must navigate, and influences of private prison lobbying on mass immigrant detention. Interview begins at minute 13:00. Read more about Advocates discuss new family detention center in Dilley, Texas

Dec 12, 2014
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San Antonio Express-News

A spending bill in Congress threatens South Texas immigrant detention center

The facility in Dilley, a converted “man camp” for oil workers, will replace a temporary government holding center in Artesia, New Mexico. Critics say it is both inhumane and unnecessary, given the dramatic slowdown in border crossings in recent months.

“The whole return of mass detention for little kids and their mothers is pretty appalling,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit that opposes for-profit prisons.

Libal noted that the Corrections Corp. of America ran a similar facility near Austin that encountered lawsuits.

Several Texas lawmakers, including Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio and Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, have raised questions about the cost-effectiveness and transparency of the procurement process.

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