Just last month, inmate advocates in Austin called on sheriff’s officials to restore in-person visitation at Travis County jails, saying the video chatting system is costly for prisoners and their families and has not improved security as promoted. The advocates pointed to a recent study by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and Grassroots Leadership that showed overall increase in disciplinary infractions, assaults and contraband between May 2012 and April 2014 in the county jail. Advocates say the results indicate conditions have worsened for prisoners. The findings are contrary to what the sheriff’s office said would happen when it introduced the video system in May 2013. At the time, the sheriff’s office said the new system would be safer for inmates. Read more about Editorial: In-person visitation should be an option at Travis, Bastrop jails
Grassroots Leadership In The News
"We're being careful to say there's not a direct correlation, but it certainly hasn't decreased violence," says Grassroots Leadership's Kymberlie Quong Charles, who argues that there's a necessary human, physical element in face-to-face interactions. "Even through Plexiglas, it allows you to see the color of [an inmate's] skin, or other physical things with their bodies," she adds. "It's an accountability thing, and lets people on the outside get some read on the physical condition of a loved one. If there are concerns, it gives people on the outside a tool." Read more about Through a Glass, Darkly: County jail visitation now video-only
The South Texas Family Residential Center, in Dilley, TX sounds like it could be a pleasant apartment complex, but it's actually going to be a detention camp for female and child immigrants who have arrived from Central America.
Located next to a state prison and a man camp, the facility is currenty under construction, with workers quickly installing the modular buildings that will eventually hold 2,400 detainees, technically under the custody of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The Corrections Corporation of America, the largest for-profit prison corporation in the country, is contracted to run and maintain the facility. However, the contract is slightly unusual. While the facility is located in Dilley, the contract is going through the town of Eloy, Arizona—effectively bypassing the typically 18 month process that involves competitive bidding, environmental impact reports, and other safeguard measures before breaking ground on a new detention facility.
Immigrant rights advocates are worried about the contract for a multitude of reasons. Among other concerns, the immigrant detention center in Eloy has had the most detainee deaths in the country—13 since it was opened in 2004, says Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. Read more about How will a small town in Arizona manage an ICE facility in Texas?
The expansion of family detention facilities is expected to surpass 3,500 beds this year, including one 532-bed facility in Karnes City, Texas and another 2,400-bed facility planned in Dilley Texas, according to Detention Watch Network.
Bob Libal, executive director of the prison reform group Grassroots Leadership, said: 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 For-profit family detention in the U.S.
"Aunque en los últimos meses la atención se ha centrado en los niños inmigrantes que llegan a EU no acompañados, hay otro grupo de menores que cruza con alguno de sus padres, o los dos. Y a diferencia de los niños que viajan solos, que son transferidos a albergues y reinsertados en ambientes familiares a la brevedad, la administración de Barack Obama ha optado por poner bajo llave a los menjores que llegan acompañados por su familia mientras reciben sentencia en las cortes de inmigración, lo cual puede tomar meses.
En el reporte Detención de familias con fines de lucro, publicado hace unos días, la organización activista que trabaja contra el encarcelamiento como negocio privado Grassroots Leadership concluye que con el establecimiento de estos centros 'el presidente [Barack] Obama ha lanzado el proyecto de detención de familias más grande de EU desde los campos de concentración para japones [durante la Segunda Guerra Mundial]'." Read more about Familias, nuevo blanco de "la migra"
A report from Grassroots Leadership and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition notes that personal visits improve jail security and lower recidivism rates. “Video-only visitation policies ignore best practices that call for face-to-face visits to foster family relationships,” the report argues. “They advance arguments about security that are dubious, not rooted in research, and may be counter-productive.” Read more about Video-Only Prison Visits A Profitable Replacement For Texas Jails
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
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