Once again, immigrants protest inhumane treatment in federal for-profit Texas prison, as feds move to shutter similar private prison in New Mexico

August 5, 2016

BOP could reduce overcrowding and cut contracts with out-of-compliance facilities if DOJ moves to deprioritize entry and re-entry prosecutions

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Last Friday night a group of immigrants incarcerated at the Eden Detention Center in Concho County, Texas refused to leave the recreation yard and return to their housing units, reportedly in protest of inhumane treatment at the facility. A CCA spokesperson confirmed the peaceful demonstration just after midnight. “A group of inmates at the Eden Detention Center is refusing to leave the recreation yard and return to their housing units. Throughout this incident, they have been passive. Eden’s Special Operations Response Team (SORT) has been activated to help work toward a resolution..."

San Angelo Live!, a local news outlet, received a call Friday from a woman who said she was the sister of one of the immigrants incarcerated. She said, “He has called and said that the inmates are being treated inhumanely. So they are all outside in the yard asking for God’s eyes to see them. He said they wanted to be treated with dignity and like human beings.” San Angelo Live! reported seeing personnel in full riot gear enter the facility, and an ambulance leaving shortly after 10pm on Friday night. At 7pm on Saturday, a CCA official issued a statement that all inmates were back in their dormitories, but did not say whether protestors’ grievances had been addressed.

This is the fourth protest nationally, and third in Texas in since 2008, at federal Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities, which are facilities contracted out to for-profit operators to incarcerate exclusively non-citizens by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The Reeves County Detention Complex, Adams County Corrections Center, and Willacy County Correctional Center have all been sites of protests, the latter causing such extensive damage that the facility was forced to close and the BOP withdrew the contract. These prisons have come under fire for medical neglect leading to in-custody deaths, contract renewals after repeated deficiencies, and allegations of BOP ties to for-profit operators blocking contract terminations.

Officials announced Monday that another CAR prison, the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, where the contract had been renewed since 2009 despite repeat violations, will finally shut its doors this October. This development comes soon after an exposé in The Nation that excoriated the BOP for improper oversight of these facilities.

“We applaud the BOP’s decision to cut Cibola’s contract, though it is long overdue. The protest at Eden is yet another in the string of protests at CAR prisons that has called attention to the inhumane conditions in these facilities,” said Bob Libal, director of Grassroots Leadership. “The BOP should cut contracts with these for-profit prisons that have repeatedly had major operational problems and work with policymakers to stop the sources of overcrowding in the federal prison system.”

While Cibola will be shuttered, Friday’s protest calls attention to similar violations at Eden, which remains open. The prison was originally built in the 1990’s to house 950 prisoners now houses approximately 1,550 prisoners under its current contract as a CAR facility that began in 2007. The facility saw protests in 1996 and in 2010, the former quelled violently with numerous serious injuries, and the latter by tear gas. The ACLU’s Warehoused and Forgotten report found numerous egregious violations at Eden including contractually incentivized overcrowding that has led to prisoners sleeping in hallways, unsanitary conditions that may have led to the spread of bacterial outbreaks, improper use of isolation including as punishment for filing complaints or assisting other prisoners with legal documents, interference with access to counsel, radioactive material in the water supply, and inadequate medical care.

The overcrowding at Eden is typical of BOP prisons, which are 30 percent overcrowded, even after a reduction in the federal prison population this year. Many of the immigrants incarcerated in CAR prisons are sentenced for one of two charges: misdemeanor improper entry or felony improper re-entry. The book, Indefensible: A Decade of Mass Incarceration of Migrants Prosecuted for Crossing the Border, released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies last month, revealed that these two charges account for half of all federal prosecutions although they are merely status offenses for crossing the border without proper documentation, and do not fall under Department Of Justice (DOJ) priorities. Non-citizens convicted of these offenses and given a two month sentence or longer are funnelled into CAR prisons, where contracts are renewed year after year despite repeated violations. Authors called on the Department of Justice to take steps to de-prioritize entry and re-entry prosecutions in order to end abuse and address mass incarceration.

“Operation Streamline and the massive ramp-up of felony re-entry prosecutions have proven to be a failure by every measure. These prosecutions are ineffective at deterring migration, expensive to taxpayers, and come with staggering human costs to immigrants, their families, and communities,” said Bethany Carson, immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership. “If the The Department of Justice wishes to make progress toward ending mass incarceration, it must take steps to deprioritize the immigration charges that now account for half of all federal prosecutions.”

Contact: 

Bethany Carson, bcarson@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111