Private prison companies’ scheme to license baby jails fails as Texas legislative session ends

May 29, 2017

(AUSTIN, Texas) — Despite private prison lobbyists’ best efforts, a proposal that would have licensed immigrant family detention centers as “child care facilities” failed in the Texas legislature this year.

The bills would have granted state officials the authority to issue licenses for immigrant family detention centers under lowered standards. The two family detention facilities in Texas have been at the center of scandals involving medical neglect, sexual abuse, a crayon ban, and multiple hunger strikes.

Prison companies that run the centers spent big money pushing for licensing. A report released in April by Texans for Public Justice showed that private prison companies are paying lobbyists $480,000 to advocate in front of Texas lawmakers this session.

GEO Group had previously told its investors that attaining licensing would allow it to detain children for longer periods of time, saying: “Presently, the center operates as a short-term processing facility and this licensing process will allow for longer lengths of stay.”

Private prison companies charge taxpayers a higher per diem rate for every woman and child locked up in facilities in Karnes County and Dilley. That means company bosses had millions of dollars at stake in these two bills.  In fact, the Associated Press reported that the House bill came directly from a private prison company that stands to benefit from its passage:

A state representative who introduced the measure acknowledged that the proposed legislation came directly from GEO Group, the nation's second-largest private prison company, which operates Karnes.

"I've known the lady who's their lobbyist for a long time ...That's where the legislation came from," said state Rep. John Raney, a Republican from the rural town of Bryan. "We don't make things up. People bring things to us and ask us to help."

Advocates react:

Marisa Bono, MALDEF’s Southwest Regional Counsel: “How we treat our most vulnerable reflects our values as Texans. We’re gratified that the Texas Legislature decided not to set up a separate standard of care for immigrant children in the State by allowing the licensure of detention facilities as childcare centers.”

Dr. Laura Guerra-Cardus of Children’s Defense Fund-Texas: “The Texas Legislature did the right thing, now it’s time for the Department of Homeland Security to follow the advice of their own advisory committee and discontinue detention as a matter of DHS policy.”

Will Francis, National Association of Social Workers/Texas Chapter: “Texas’ child welfare system was not designed to license family detention centers, and the conditions in these facilities run counter to what research shows is the best environment for the wellbeing of children.  No amount of regulation will fix this issue, and all of the families in detention should be released into the community immediately.”

Amy Fischer, policy director of RAICES: "As the Texas legislature considered licensing the family detention centers, an Afghani mother who has been detained at Karnes with her two children for nearly six months attempted suicide as a desperate effort to free her children. Today we celebrate that Texas made the right decision by refusing to grant these baby jails a child care license, but we must now continue to fight to shut them down entirely.”

Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership: “It’s no wonder that private prison corporations poured so much money into lobbying when it comes to the child care licenses. Family detention is big business for them and some of the very few good things to come out of an extremely anti-immigrant legislative session are the deaths of these bills.”

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation and criminalization are things of the past.

Contact: 

Cristina Parker, cparker@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111