A report released this morning by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition found that disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband cases all increased within the year after the video-only policy was put in place. The report concedes that the trends may be an aberration or temporary but cites social science and long-standing prison policies holding that visitations improves jail security and lowers recidivism rates. Read more about Backlash brewing against video-only jail visitation
Grassroots Leadership In The News
The reason migration on the southern border is currently at its lowest point in over four decades is not Operation Streamline, but the economic downturn in the United States.
The costs of this ineffective program are staggering. According to a 2012 Grassroots Leadership report, since 2005, when Operation Streamline began, the federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal-justice system. Much of this money is funneled to private-prison corporations, the two largest of which are Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. Read more about Operation Streamline is costly (and it doesn't work)
Earlier this month, allegations of sexual abuse surfaced at a South Texas detention center for mothers and children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America. The Karnes City facility is run by a private, for-profit operator based in Florida, which strongly denies the allegations. The claims come four months after the ACLU issued a report alleging thousands of non-citizens are subjected to abuse and dangerous conditions in privately-run federal prisons in Texas. The report described overcrowding, squalid conditions and insufficient medical care.
Grassroots Leadership Executive Director Bob Libal weighs in on the Karnes Family Detention facility. Read more about Are Privatized Prisons A Good Idea?
“We believe Securus sees Texas county jails as a really ripe market for them,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles, an organizer with the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership. Securus, she pointed out, is a major provider of phone services for jails and prisons, but the FCC is cracking down on what it considers exorbitant rates. Video visitation could offer a source of revenue at a time of sagging profits for the industry. Read more about A Dallas Company Finds Profit in Video-Only Jail Visitations
Members of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership have released a study pointing to an overall increase in disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband between May 2012 and April 2014. Advocates say the results indicate conditions have worsened for prisoners, though in announcing the launch of the video system in May 2013, the sheriff’s office said exclusive video visitation would better safety and security as deputies would no longer have to move inmates from one building to another for face-to-face visits and would be free for other duties. Read more about Advocates want Travis County to bring back face-to-face jail visits
Travis County started using video-visitation in 2013, but a recent study by Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition says it has only resulted in more violence and more contraband in the jail. Read more about Video-visitation plan coming to Bexar County Jail
In a dialogue on October 15th with Grassroots Leadership Executive Director Bob Libal, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition Executive Director Alejandro Caceres, and Texas Civil Rights Project Staff Attorney Amelia Fischer, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton again defended his office’s participation in a federal program that helps deport immigrants arrested in Travis County. Read more about Despite criticism, Travis County sheriff stands by deportation program
From Austin and San Antonio, close to one-hundred activists made the drive to Karnes County this weekend in protest of the more than 500 immigrants incarcerated inside the Karnes County Residential Center.
"When we as a country needed to open our arms and open our doors to people fleeing violence,” Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s immigration projects coordinator, said. “Instead, we locked them up. We're putting them in this prison now."
Part of the group’s message at the weekend rally is directed at the prison's operator, private company Geo Group Incorporated.
"We know that this is a company back here that is making $298 per day, per child," Parker said.
Click here to read the full report prepared by Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Protesters Demand Closure of Immigration Facility
Privatization of any type of jail or prison should be concerning: incarcerations shouldn’t be driven by profits.
Immigration activists have taken a firm stance on this. Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a North Carolina-based organization that wants to extricate private businesses from prison industry, said the new incursions into family detention by the Obama administration are both “incredibly shameful and entirely predictable.” After the failure of T. Don Hutto, he believes the government should end the effort to lock up families based on immigration status. “It’s almost mind-boggling that ICE would embark on this kind of detention regime,” he said. Read more about Undeterred by sex abuse scandal, feds push for more family detention centers
From Austin and San Antonio, close to one-hundred activists made the drive to Karnes County this weekend in protest of the more than 500 immigrants incarcerated inside the Karnes County Residential Center. "When we as a country needed to open our arms and open our doors to people fleeing violence,” Cristina Parker, Grassroots Leadership’s immigration projects coordinator, said. “Instead, we locked them up. We're putting them in this prison now."
Part of the group’s message at the weekend rally is directed at the prison's operator, private company Geo Group Incorporated. "We know that this is a company back here that is making $298 per day, per child," Parker said. Read more about Protesters Demand Closure of Immigration Facility
Ringing protest chants and flashy signs greeted security at the Karnes County Residential Center Saturday, southeast of San Antonio, where 60 people gathered in solidarity with immigrant women and children housed inside; immigrants who made it across the U.S. border after fleeing violence in Central America.
The group outside the facility included some children, who also wanted their message, and their voice, heard. Little ones with the group outside the residential center attempted to deliver letters they'd written to the immigrant children on Saturday. But they also met with opposition and their letters were not delivered.
Eva Gray, who lives in Austin, wondered why the families were being denied justice."I’m here because I really want to see an end to deportation in general, the criminalization of those who are not guilty of any sort of crime," she said passionately. "I just want to see children playing and the ability to have their cases heard. They're really being denied all those things." Read more about Songs of Protest and Symbols of Hope, as Protestors Rally at Under-Fire Detention Center
Organizers referred to the practice as inhumane and believe the Karnes County Residential Center should be closed immediately.
Members of the group also alleged mistreatment of the people being held at the center.
"One of the biggest problems with this facility is that it's run by a private company, and the problem with that is that they aren't answerable to us, the people. They answer to their shareholders," said Cristina Parker, immigration projects coordinator at Grassroots Leadership. "So they have not given us any kind of response or anything, which is exactly why it needs to stop."
Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group that has been critical of ICE's detention policies and outsourcing to the private prison industry, said the reliance on signing deals with local entities rather than with the companies themselves lacks transparency.
“I think the reason they don't put out (requests for proposals), they do these (intergovernmental service agreements) is to avoid scrutiny, to rush through these decisions without the public or the media to scrutinize what they're doing,” Libal said. Read more about Critics frown at ICE jail contracts
Elaine Cohen, who works with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights to end for-profit incarceration, said she's visited the center. She complained about the practice of housing children in what she said were jail-like conditions while a woman next to her held a bright-orange poster that said “Children need freedom and sunshine to grow.”
“You can paint laughing broccolis and smiling bananas on the walls all you want, but this is still a prison for children,” Cohen said, adding that this is the first of several protests. She noted that a larger detention center is slated to be built in Dilley, between San Antonio and Laredo, and said the group will be vigilant of others. Read more about Protesters demand closure of Karnes residential facility
A caravan full of protesters used songs, posters and theatrical demonstrations Saturday outside the Karnes County Residential Center to denounce the use of for-profit facilities to detain immigrants seeking asylum. Numbering close to 100, protesters came by bus and cars from Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston to vent their frustrations about the detention center, operated under contract by GEO Group Inc. for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The rally aimed to bring attention to the plight of hundreds of Central American women and children who are being housed at the shelter while they wait for the federal government to decide their fates. Elaine Cohen, who works with Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights to end for-profit incarceration, said she's visited the center. She complained about the practice of housing children in what she said were jail-like conditions while a woman next to her held a bright-orange poster that said “Children need freedom and sunshine to grow.”
Organizaciones pro derechos de los inmigrantes protestarán el sábado 11 frente al centro de detención de familias inmigrantes ubicado en Karnes City, 50 millas al sureste de San Antonio. “Estamos trabajando con gente en el estado de Texas para reunirnos y mandar un fuerte mensaje al presidente Obama, que regresar a una política de detener a familias es absolutamente inapropiado”, dijo Bob Libal, director ejecutivo de la organización Grassroots Leadership en Austin, uno de los organizadores.
La actividad espera convocar a centenares de personas en las instalaciones, quienes exigirán un alto a lo que los grupos de defensa de los inmigrantes indocumentados califican como una ‘‘política vergonzosa’’, aseguró Libal. El dirigente explicó también que un autobus viajará desde Austin el día de la protesta y que más detalles están en http://bit.ly/10pMQkg. Read more about Nueva protesta contra los centros de detención
A report released yesterday documents what it calls "systemic" problems in the two private prison companies the federal government hires to house undocumented Central American mothers and their children.
The report alleges detainees are being sexually harassed by guards in the recently-opened Karnes County Residential Center, which is run by the GEO Group, and expresses concern about a forthcoming center opening in Dilley next month, which will be run by CCA.
Austin-based research and advocacy group Grassroots Leadership authored the report, and Cristina Parker, a project coordinator with the group, says private prison contractors like GEO and CCA are often responsible for deaths of those within under care. Since the 1980s, she says, they have settled lawsuits claiming that people die under these companies’ care, while other lawsuits have dealt with sexual and physical abuse. What surprises Parker is that these companies continue getting new contracts.
“Private prison companies are not accountable to anyone,” Parker says. “They are accountable to their shareholders – not to us the people – not even to Congress, not even to the Department of Homeland Security.”
Broadcasting from San Antonio, we look at a new family detention center just south of the city that holds more than 500 immigrant women and their children as they await deportation. The for-profit Karnes County Residential Center is owned by the GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the United States. Many women imprisoned at the Karnes facility have accused guards of sexually assaulting them. A federal complaint filed last week says guards are promising the women help with their immigration cases in return for sexual favors. Many of the detainees came to the United States seeking asylum from violence in their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. But the Obama administration says it is detaining them in order to discourage more migrants from coming. We hear from one of the facility’s few detainees to be released since a wave of migrants arrived in August, an El Salvador national who came with her 7-year-old daughter, who suffers from brain cancer. We also speak ... Cristina Parker, the immigration projects coordinator for Grassroots Leadership and co-author of their new report, "For-Profit Family Detention: Meet the Private Prison Corporations Making Millions by Locking Up Refugee Families." Read more about Migrant Women, Children Allege Harsh Conditions, Sexual Assault at For-Profit Texas Immigration Jail
“The [Obama] administration has learned no lessons from what was one of the most shameful parts of the Bush administration’s detention legacy, and the fact that they’ve returned to that policy speaks volumes on where their priorities lie,” Bob Libal, director of Austin-based Grassroots Leadership, said. “I think that this is a giant step backwards, in terms of codifying a practice of locking up asylum-seeking families at for-profit prisons. It’s shameful.” Read more about Mass Detention of Migrant Women and Children Continues to Expand
Locking up children and their parents has an ugly history in Texas. The Obama administration pulled families out of the CCA-run T. Don Hutto detention center in 2009 after mounting evidence of civil-rights abuses. Families and children, many of whom are fleeing violence and human rights abuses, simply shouldn’t be held in jail-like conditions, advocates have said. They suggest alternatives, including truly residential facilities run by charities or faith-based groups.
Immigrant rights groups reacted with outrage today at the ICE announcement.
“Given the shameful history of family detention at Hutto, it’s horrifying that ICE would turn back to Corrections Corporation of America to operate what would be by far the nation’s largest family detention center,” said Bob Libal, executive director of the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership. “While little kids and their families will suffer in remote private prisons, far away from legal or social services, these multi-billion dollar private prison companies stand to make enormous profits.” Read more about Feds Set to Open Massive New Family Detention Center in November