(AUSTIN, Texas) — Advocates are telling the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that a contract with a private prison company for a South Texas detention center should not be renewed while the federal government reviews private immigration detention contracts. Their letter, signed by 53 organizations, says the facility has serious problems and that renewing the contract would expose the review to be a political stunt.
The contract with private prison company the GEO Group for the South Texas Detention Complex, more commonly known as the Pearsall detention center, will expire on November 30. That is the same day that DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson has ordered a subcommittee to complete a written recommendation on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s use of private prisons.
Despite the subcommittee’s ongoing review, ICE has been aggressively expanding private prison beds and committing to more private prison contracts.
The letter, which was sent to DHS on Monday, reads in part, “The facility is infamous for its harsh conditions reminiscent of those reported in private BOP prisons. GEO guards wear military-style uniforms and immigrants formerly detained there report verbal abuse and arbitrary threats of solitary confinement by guards. The facility has also been dogged by frequent reports of sexual abuse, including a guard fired for allegedly sexually assaulting a detainee from Mexico in 2008 and more recently, a guard who pled guilty to sexual assault of a detainee in 2014.”
Nazry Mustakim, who lives with this family in Waco, Texas, spent more than 10 months at the Pearsall detention center. He experienced labor exploitation and negligent medical care at Pearsall. The facility, which he says is run like a prison, operates on the labor of the people detained there. “I worked in the kitchen and cleaned the ‘holding tank.’ It often appeared that the entire detention center was run by us detainees. We were paid $3 per day by the private prison company to do the labor,” Mustakim said. “Getting adequate medical care was nearly impossible. The medical staff prescribed Ibuprofen for nearly everything, whether you were sick with the flu or a cold or if you fell off your bunk. You had to put in a request for a band-aid even for an open burn wound, which I experienced first hand.”
Advocates say the renewal of the contract at Pearsall calls into question how sincere DHS is about the review of private prisons ordered by Sec. Johnson. The letter concludes: “To preserve the validity of the HSAC review, we ask the Department not renew the STDC contract given the serious issues at the facility and suspend all contract renewals of private facilities for the duration of the review.”
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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.
Cristina Parker, firstname.lastname@example.org, 512-499-8111