A letter signed by 50 national, state, and local-level criminal justice, immigrant rights, civil liberties, policy, labor and faith organizations was delivered today to McAllen city officials calling on them to abandon plans to construct a new 1,000-bed private prison. The new lock-up would be the result of a more than thirtyfold increase in McAllen’s current detention agreement with the United States Marshals Service (USMS).
The letter warns that the vast majority of people incarcerated in the McAllen prison for the USMS would likely be immigrants charged only with unauthorized border-crossing. The city would be contributing to the growing trend of criminalizing migrants under the federal “Operation Streamline” program.
The letter also highlights the shameful history of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the country’s two largest for-profit prison companies, both interested in bidding on the deal. Federal Judge Carlton Reeves called the GEO Group-operated Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts.”
“As the disturbing experiences of other jurisdictions have shown, handing control of prisons over to for-profit companies is a recipe for abuse, neglect, and misconduct,” said Astrid Dominguez, Advocacy Coordinator for the Lower Rio Grande Valley for the ACLU of Texas.
Additionally, the letter cites local governments that have regretted contracting with for-profit prison companies in the past, including that of Youngstown, Ohio. According to news reports, the CCA-run Northeast Ohio Correctional Center was plagued with violence and unrest almost from the moment it opened in 1997, seeing 13 stabbings, two murders, and six escapes in just its first fourteen months of operation. Despite having initially drawn CCA to the city, the mayor of Youngstown later told reporters, “Knowing what I know now, I would never have allowed CCA to build a prison here.”
“Private prisons have a long and troubled history in Texas and beyond,” said Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership, one of the letter’s signatories. “The City of McAllen would be making a mistake to partner with a prison corporation with a long record of human rights violations to incarcerate immigrants.”
Signatories of the letter urging McAllen city officials not to move forward with plans to build a new for-profit prison for immigrants include the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Constitutional Rights, American Federation of Government Employees Local 2272, Grassroots Leadership, The Detention Watch Network, the United Methodist Church, RGV Community DREAMers, and La Union de Pueblo Entero.
View the letter with complete list of signatories here.
Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership, Executive Director - 512.971.0487