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One year ago, a private profit detention center saw a spate of riots in reponse to a detainee death

reeves_prison_uprising1On December 12th 2008, 32 year old Jesus Manuel Galindo died in solitary confinement at Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) in Pecos, Texas. Galindo was a Mexican citizen whose death was caused by multiple seizures and inadequate medication and medical care. He had been in solitary confinement in the ‘security housing unit,’ which the inmates called “the hole,” since November, and during that time his mother and fellow inmates had repeatedly warned prison authorities that Galindo was suffering from severe seizures and was desperately in need of daily medication for epilepsy.

By the time Galindo’s body was found in his solitary cell, rigor mortis had already set it, indicating that he had been dead for some hours. A toxicology report found “below-therapeutic levels” of Dilantin, a cheap anti-epileptic drug, in his blood. The medication is only effective if administered in fixed dosages with the patient’s blood being check regularly. According to Robert Cain, a neurologist who reviewed Galindo’s autopsy, he concluded that “[w]ith multiple seizures, inadequate levels of medication and left in isolation without supervision, he was set up to die.” The medical neglect and human rights abuses at the Reeves facility have resulted in nine reported deaths over the past four years.

According to a Reeves County prisoner:

We are on lock down 21 hours a day. When you’re sick they don’t call you till a week or a month later. There’s people that put in request for surgery over six months ago and they still haven’t gotten it.

Jesus Galindo’s death sparked off two multi-day uprisings by inmates in December 2008 and January 2009 to protest the inhumane treatment and lack of medical attention for the detainees. When they saw Galindo’s body being removed from the facility in a large black plastic bag, the inmates set fire to the recreational facility and occupied the exercise yard overnight. The first uprising or “motin” as the Spanish speaking inmates call it lasted only 24 hours, causing the prison one million dollars in damage.

After the first riot, the inmates sent a delegation of seven representatives to talk with the authorities.

They explained that the uprising had erupted from widespread dissatisfaction with almost every aspect of the prison: inedible food, a dearth of legal resources, the use of solitary confinement to punish people who complained about their medical treatment, overcrowding and, above all, poor health care.

A month later there was a second riot at the detention center during which detainees set fire to the security housing unit, demanding immediate redress for their demands. This insurrection lasted five days and cost the prison 20 million dollars. One year later, the inmates’ demands are yet to be met.

The Reeves County Detention Center is owned by the GEO Group, and is the largest privately owned prison facility in the world, housing 3,700 detainees. With the number of prosecutions of immigration crimes surging over the last few years, the need for detention centers and jails has also gone up. 68,000 people were prosecuted for immigration-related offenses in the first nine months of 2009, and 50% of those took place in Texas. Following the huge increase in immigration related arrests, federal agencies have outsourced the building and administration of detention facilities to private prison companies such as Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group. For-profit prison facilities are run as low-risk and high-reward for the corporations that run them, and the immigration facilities such as the RCDC are specifically located in remote, economically deprived communities.

A Boston Review article discusses the problem with privately managed prisons and their lack of accountability:

Over the past eight years, the prison giants CCA ($1.6 billion in annual revenue) and GEO Group ($1.1 billion) have racked up record profits, with jumps in revenue and profits roughly paralleling the rising numbers of detained immigrants…Prisons are owned by local governments, but local oversight of finances is rare, and the condition of prisoners is often ignored. Inmates such as those in Pecos are technically in the custody of the federal government, but they are in fact in the custody of corporations with little or no federal supervision. So labyrinthine are the contracting and financing arrangements that there are no clear pathways to determine responsibility and accountability. Yet every contract provides an obvious and unimpeded flow of money to the private industry and consultants.

In commemoration of the one year anniversary of the uprisings and Jesus Galindo’s death, and in the spirit of International Human Rights Day, a number of rights advocate organizations are coming together to denounce the neglect of human rights and the continuing abhorrent living conditions at the Reeves County Detention Center. The ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership, Southwest Worker’s Union, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights are organizing a march and vigil on December 12th to draw attention to the events of last year and demand accountability from the GEO group. The organizations have also drafted a letter to the BOP (The Bureau of Prisons) demanding that it terminate its contract with Reeves County and the GEO Group if they fail to comply with basic detention standards.

And for an intimate look at immigration detention-related deaths, check out Breakthrough’s End Homeland Guantanamos campaign.

Photo courtesy of www.malcolm-che.com

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