The GEO Group, which operates the Karnes County family detention center in Texas, has accumulated a considerable number of complaints and lawsuits for abuse and neglect and is a particular focus of the report. Most recently, a complaint was filed against the Karnes facility, alleging that GEO guards had been sexually abusing detainees there. That facility has been open less than two months. And Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) has also faced its share of criticism and lawsuits over conditions within its facilities, including when CCA operated the disgraced T. Don Hutto family detention center in Taylor, Texas.
“When you start digging into the track records of these companies, the thing that is most shocking is how consistently they abuse, threaten, and neglect the people entrusted to them,” said Cristina Parker, of Grassroots Leadership and an author of the report. “GEO and CCA fail every single time they are allowed to detain vulnerable people.”
The report jointly released today outlines several of the many instances in which GEO and CCA have mismanaged their facilities. One particularly horrible example was the Coke County Juvenile Detention Center in Texas. One “lead care-worker” employed by GEO at the facility was hired despite having a record of sexual offenses against children. He repeatedly sexually assaulted girls held in the Coke County facility, and even continued to harass one after she was released. The day her case was settled, the girl killed herself. Even after that scandal, an unannounced state inspection found that the children in Coke County were still subjected to foul living conditions, including insect-infested food and feces-smeared walls. Texas finally canceled that contract with GEO.
In another example in Pecos, Texas a man with epilepsy died in solitary confinement due to GEO staff retaliating against him for complaining of the lack of care he received for his epilepsy. Jesús Manuel Galindo had persistently notified the staff of his seizures and medical needs, however, after repeated requests for an adjustment to his seizure medication he was relocated to solitary confinement where he stayed for a month until he died — of complications during a seizure.
These examples illustrate that it’s questionable at best to contract the detention of adults and teenagers with inept private prison corporations, and there are many more outlined in the report. Detaining mothers with young children in the same facilities run by the same corporations is neither logical nor humane, according to the authors.
“I’m heartbroken to see the Obama Administration return to the mass family detention policy that they had ended just five years ago,” said Judy Greene, of Justice Strategies and an author of the report. “And I’m shocked to see them contracting for family detention with private prison companies — GEO and CCA — with appalling track records when it comes to incarceration of vulnerable people, immigrants, children and families."
The administration started ramping up family detention in July, and has already opened two new family detention centers. The first was set up at an federal law enforcement training center in New Mexico and the second at a privately operated men’s immigrant detention center in Texas. Both were quickly converted in order to hold mothers and their children. The quick conversions included the installation of cribs to detain infants. These existing family detention facilities already hold more than 1,200 women and children as they await the resolution of their asylum cases.
Attorneys and advocates who were were allowed to tour the detention centers found dismal conditions, low-quality food, and violations of due process.
A third facility, rumored to be operated by CCA, is in the works in remote Dilley, Texas. It would detain 2,400 mothers and children and would be the nation’s largest immigrant detention center. This news solidifies the commitment of the Obama Administration to family detainment on a scale not seen in this country since World War II when Japanese families were forced into internment camps.
Family detention was largely ended in 2009 when the Obama administration ended the practice at the T. Don Hutto detention center. The decision to stop detaining families at Hutto followed years of protests, accusations of poor treatment and sexual abuse, and litigation by the ACLU and the University of Texas Law School.
Since 2009 and before this most recent expansion, less than 100 individuals have been detained in a family detention center in Berks County, Pennsylvania.
“The family detention of these refugees is bad enough, but putting it in the hands of for-profit private prison companies makes it so much worse,” said Parker.
The report, “For-Profit Family Detention: Meet the Private Prison Corporations Making Millions By Locking Up Refugee Families” is jointly released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies and is available online at www.grassrootsleadership.org.