A scathing early-August report by the Office of the Inspector General on the quality-of-inmate-life in private prisons led to a very quick decision by the Department of Justice: Unless a new contract is “substantially reduce[d] in scope in a manner consistent with law,” the Bureau of Prisons must allow its current contracts with private prisons to expire.
The U.S. deputy attorney general said she believes this is just the beginning. In a memo to the acting director of the BOP, Sally Q. Yates wrote, “This is the first step in the process of reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”
But on Friday, Aug. 25, Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, announced that he has ordered “a review of for-profit immigration detention contracts.”
The homeland security review comes as something of a surprise: In an e-mail to me later on that same Friday, ICE spokesperson Carl Rusnok indicated that private prisons would continue to be utilized as part of ICE’s inventory of prisoner housing. It should be noted, he included in his message that “ICE detention is solely for the purpose of either awaiting the resolution of an individual’s immigration case or to carry out a removal order. ICE does not detain for punitive reasons.”
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit focused on ending the use of private prisons in the United States, scoffed at the notion that ICE prisons are not punitive.
“People stay in ICE facilities for weeks, months, sometimes years,” he told me in response to Rusnok’s comments. “Just because they put pictures on the walls doesn’t mean [the facilities] are not punitive. There are still locks on the doors and guards to keep you from leaving.” [node:read-more:link]
Federal immigration officials are moving forward with plans for a new 500-bed family detention center to house migrant women and children, even as many advocates and politicians have called for the closure of such facilities altogether.
Officials in Dimmit County, 45 miles from the Texas border with Mexico, say they’ll consider a bid on Monday from a firm who says their facility in a 27-acre former work camp for oil workers would provide dramatically better conditions than two other family detention centers in the state.
Those facilities have faced complaints of poor food, inadequate medical care and allegations of sexual abuse from detainees, activists and the US Civil Rights Commission.
But Cristina Parker, Immigration Programs Director for Grassroots Leadership, said she and other advocates object inherently to the concept of a detention center for families fleeing violence, regardless of the purported conditions.
“If you are not free to leave, then it doesn’t matter how nice it is,” Parker said. “It’s a prison.” [node:read-more:link]
The detention centres “are like prisons, with heavy metal doors and fences,” explained Parker. “You can’t enter them without authorisation. Some of the detainees have access to legal advice, but it is not something that’s guaranteed.”
With only five per cent of the world population, the United States holds over 20 per cent of the world’s prison population, in local, state and federal prisons. With over 2.3 million people convicted, imprisoned or detained, and the trend towards privatising prisons, it is an attractive business. The detention centres for undocumented immigrants, although a small slice of the cake, also generate profits.
And with the growth in the flow of migrants and refugees this decade, the sector is doing well. [node:read-more:link]
An abrupt about-face has thwarted efforts by the British security firm Serco to open its first family detention center in Texas. Local officials unanimously voted this week against “entering contract agreements” with the company after at least a month of negotiations.
Serco has promised 200 local jobs if the center is opened. But human rights advocates say the opportunity may not last if Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is elected president, since she has promised to end the practice of detaining families.
“This box they’re trying to sell you may have zero value in a few months because we might get a president who might say that family detention is over,” said Alejandro Caceres, an organizer with Grassroots Leadership, during last week’s meeting with residents. [node:read-more:link]
A child detained at a Serco facility in Australia said, "Even if you make this place heaven it is not enough for us because we feel like we are in a cage. We feel people see us like animals in a cage."
After surviving multiple rapes and death threats from MS-13 gang members, a 35-year-old Salvadoran mother gathered up her 12-year-old daughter and fled to the United States in hopes of seeking asylum. But when they arrived in South Texas in March, she says, they faced a new nightmare — an immigrant detention center where they experienced sexual abuse at the hands of another woman housed in the same room.
The mother, referred to as E.G.S. in court documents, and her daughter are detained in the Karnes County Residential Center, a 500-bed federal immigration detention facility run by the private prison company GEO Group, Inc. Between Karnes and a second facility, the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is currently detaining approximately 1,800 immigrant mothers and children in Texas.
But in order to comply with a federal order that children be housed in licensed residential centers, Texas must categorize these detention facilities as state child care providers. After a controversial start — Texas made its first attempts to license the facilities behind closed doors without public hearings last fall — the state issued its first child care license to the prison company that manages the Karnes facility in late April.
Now, E.G.S and another mother, along with the Austin nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, have sued to stop the state from issuing further licenses. An Austin judge has temporarily halted the licensing until a court hearing Friday. [node:read-more:link]
Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based nonprofit that opposes for-profit prisons, sued Texas over the regulations. Arguing there was no “emergency” allowing the state to waive basic human rights, the nonprofit won a temporary injunction in November. This forced the state to accept public input on the changes. An open records request showed the state received over 5,000 pages of overwhelmingly negative letters and testimony against the proposed rules.
But the state pressed on anyway, and the new rules went into effect on Feb. 12.
In response, immigration reform activists organized a “pop-up day care center” outside the office of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Today, I’m joined by Alejandro Caceres, immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership. I asked him to tell me more about what inspired this unique direct action and what kind of reaction they received. [node:read-more:link]
Immigrant activists are fighting to prevent Texas from licensing controversial detention centers as child care facilities, saying these centers are more accurately described as prisons.
They won a victory in court this week. On Wednesday, an Austin district judge issued a temporary injunction blocking Texas’ largest immigrant family detention center in Dilley from being labeled as a child care facility, after activists from the Grassroots Leadership organization sued on behalf of two Central American mothers being detained there.
The judge issued a week-long restraining order preventing Texas officials from awarding a child care license to the privately-run, for-profit South Texas Family Residential Center. The order expires on May 13, when the court will hear the organization’s request for a temporary injunction against new state regulations to license the center. [node:read-more:link]
AUSTIN, Texas - A temporary restraining order was issued Wednesday that prevents the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services from issuing a childcare license to the South Texas Family Residential Care Center in Dilley.
The order is in response to a lawsuit filed by Grassroots Leadership to halt childcare licensing of controversial immigrant family detention centers in South Texas.
The center in Dilley and the Karnes County Residential Center had both applied for licenses under lowered standards, adopted under a new regulation, which were implemented by the agency on March 1. The Karnes facility was granted a childcare license on Friday. Wednesday the court blocked licensure of the Dilley center. [node:read-more:link]