Guest Blogger: Tracey Hayes from American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) is a for-profit prison managed by GEO Group, an international prison management corporation, to hold so-called “criminal aliens.” Located in the far reaches of barren West Texas, RCDC sits on the outskirts of the small town of Pecos. History associates the remote location with the legend of Judge Roy Bean, known as “the law west of the Pecos (River).”
Built to hold up to 3,760 criminal aliens (though many are confined for unlawful re-entry), according to the detention facility website, no one knows for sure how many are there because officials do not disclose the real number. What we do know is that detainees are being housed in small cells with 50-55 people or more per room. Detainees report that as they sleep, they are bumping into each other for lack of space.
On December 12, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, Southwest Workers Union and family members of some of those incarcerated marched from the Reeves County courthouse to RCDC to direct attention to the life-threatening conditions and inhumane treatment that has resulted in nine detainee deaths in the past four years. A year ago, following the death of an epileptic inmate in solitary confinement after being denied adequate medication, detainees rioted to protest poor medical care. An ACLU of Texas request for a federal investigation of this outbreak has gone unanswered by the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons.
The goal of our march and vigil was to commemorate the anniversary of the riot, and bring public attention via the media to the litany of unaddressed abuses at RCDC through our staged action, which it succeeded in doing. See below:
Meanwhile, our legal staff gained admission to the prison and was given the opportunity to interview detainee after detainee to learn more about what is actually happening inside.
Here’s what they discovered: Prison officials keep medical costs down by making it almost impossible for inmates to get adequate medical care. They keep food costs down by serving low quality food in insufficient amounts. They keep administrative costs down by restricting access to grievance processes with English-only requirements and by punishing English speakers who assist mono-lingual Spanish speakers in filling out the forms. Bi-lingual speakers who try to help others must eventually choose between being thrown into solitary confinement or ending their translation assistance.
Furthermore, GEO’s cost-cutting has led to a long and steady rise in the company’s profits while atrocities continue unabated. For example, detainees spoke of medical staff prescribing “two Tylenol” to detainees who complain of stomach ulcers, blood in the urine or stool, and metastasizing lumps spreading over aging bodies. And inmates with previously diagnosed chronic and serious conditions were also prescribed “two Tylenol.” When they press their cases to obtain the medicines they need, detainees are often thrown into solitary where they are unable to ask for further medical attention or submit grievances.
Of the detainees ACLU of Texas attorneys interviewed, one reported:
“I have 2 teenage boys and a son in the military. I do not want to be the next person to die. When the riot happened in 2009 I almost burned to death. The unit was on fire and the guards left us in the unit to die. The inmates had to break a window for us to get out. I don’t really tell my family how it really is here, enough is the worry of me being here. The commissary sheet is in English, the inmate request forms are in English. It is getting harder for me to help other inmates [by translating]. I have already been warned and was placed in the hole for 21 days. I feel like I am in a concentration camp.”
Detainees stories substantiate the severity of ongoing civil and human rights abuses.
GEO’s contract with Reeves County is up for renewal in March. If conditions are not improved dramatically, RCDC should be closed and detainees should be transferred to a facility that is equipped and staffed to meet basic minimum needs of the persons held there. Please JOIN US in asking that the Bureau of Prisons investigate living conditions and medical treatment at RCDC.
To get more information about Reeves County Detention Facility and how you can help, please visit www.aclutx.org or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of ACLU Texas