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Prison companies’ profit motive sheds new light on Arizona’s immigration law

For months after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed off on the draconian immigration law, SB1070, protestors raged about the repercussions of a law that made it mandatory for police to stop and check the papers of anyone that they deemed “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Human rights activists protested the inevitable implication of racial profiling that the law brought with it, while supporters of the law argued that it would be an effective solution to the immigration issue. When analyzing how the law came to be, the progressive media went to great lengths to highlight the direct links between those who drafted the law and “hate” groups the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FIRM) and white supremacist organizations. In all this, little was said about how the law came about in the first place.

A breaking investigation conducted by NPR and released today reveals that there is a more insidious motive behind the drafting of the Arizona law; one that leaves passionate rhetoric behind and focuses purely on profit. Based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of campaign finance reports of people like Senator Russell Pearce, the legislator that was responsible for introducing SB1070 before the House of Representatives, as well as the corporate records of numerous prison companies, NPR has found deep financial ties between the drafting and introduction of the bill, and the private prison industry, that stands to benefit millions of dollars from increased immigrant detention.

The NPR investigation found that the seeds of the immigration bill were sown at a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a semi-secret group that comprises of state legislators like Pearce, as well as the heads of big private corporations such as ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association, and billion dollar companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United States. All of the 50 members present for the meeting in December, 2009 where Pearce first presented his idea for SB1070, voted to support it, and the exact “model bill” that he presented at the meeting became the law that Jan Brewer passed in April, 2010.

Once SB1070 was introduced in the House in January by Senator Pearce, it was backed by thirty six sponsors, most of whom had been present at the December meeting of ALEC. Almost immediately, thirty of the thirty-six sponsors received generous donations from all the big private prison companies, GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corporation. Further, it was clear that, if executed, this law would be hugely profitable for the prison companies. The records of CCA showed that prison executives were relying on immigration detention as their next big market.

Ties between the massive expansion of immigrant detention and the subsequent growth and profit for the largely privately run prison system are not new. What is even more disturbing is the concrete evidence that points to the lack of accountability that comes with this prison system that is increasingly dysfunctional, as well as a detention system that denies due process and fairness to hundreds of men, women and children.

Advocate groups such as the NDLON have called for a further investigation into the collaboration between private corporations and conservative politicians. Pablo Alvarado, the Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released a statement today saying-

We have done much to confront the hate within the recent immigration debate…but what this report brings to light is that behind the odious rhetoric there are corporations cashing in…These corporations and the politicians they fund are less concerned with borders than they are profit margins. We call on Russell Pearce to fully disclose his ties with those who may benefit financially from his initiatives and we ask that a deeper investigation be launched into the private interests gaining from the human rights crisis in Arizona.

Photo courtesy of npr.org

Desperate need for oversight as sexual assault is carried out in immigration detention

Despite repeated promises of detention reform from John Morton at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the immigration detention system is under fire once again. A guard at the T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, Texas, has been accused of sexually assaulting female detainees on their way to being deported. As per complaints from the women who had been assaulted, several of them were groped while being patted down on the way to the airport, and one detainee reported being propositioned for sex.

ICE disclosed the information to advocate groups last week. Responding immediately, groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and Grassroots Leadership expressed their outrage at the alleged sexual assault and called on the federal government to take immediate action to reform the broken detention system. The guard has been fired and Corrections Corporation of America, the private for-profit company that manages the facility under contract from ICE is on probation, until the outcome of the investigation is known. ICE has also ordered the company to effect changes such as not allowing female detainees to be left alone with male guards.

When Morton announced a detailed plan for reform of the immigration detention system last October, he attributed the majority of the detention problems, such as inhumane treatment and lack of medical care for detainees, to an over dependence on contractors like the Corrections Corporations of America and the infamous GEO Group, and the lack of federal oversight to monitor the running of the facilities. As part of the long-term plan for overhaul of the system, Morton had mentioned a smaller network of detention facilities that were monitored and managed by federal personnel and ensured appropriate medical care and transportation protocol. While those long-term goals are being implemented, there had been talk of establishing a representative from ICE at each facility to oversee activities.

This most recent incident of mistreatment of detainees drives home the urgent need for these reform plans to be implemented by ICE. Speaking about the sexual assault case, Bob Libal, Grassroots Leadership’s Texas Campaigns Coordinator said-

We are saddened and shocked by this report of abuse. While we were heartened that the administration took on reforming the U.S. detention system a year ago, this incident illustrates the inherent problems in an immigration detention system with no meaningful oversight. We hope that this latest news of misconduct in an immigrant detention facility will spur President Obama to action. His administration should should immediately take steps to scale back its growing and out-of-control detention system.

While such incidents do not receive the media attention they deserve, this is not the first case of sexual abuse in a detention center in Texas. Also at the T. Don Hutto facility, a different CCA guard was fired in 2007 when he was found having sex with a detainee in her cell. In 2008, a guard employed by the GEO Group at the South Texas Detention facility was charged with impregnating a detainee. As recently as April 2010 a guard at the Port Isabel Detention Facility in Los Fresnos, Texas was sentenced to three years in prison for sexually assaulting female detainees who were being kept in medical isolation. Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the ACLU of Texas, denounced the inability of the facilities to prevent against such abuse saying-

The continued occurrence of sexual assault in immigration detention facilities demonstrates the need for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to move more aggressively in implementing reforms like improving detention standards, strengthening federal oversight of private providers like GEO and CCA, or better yet, eliminating the use of contract providers altogether.

Advocates have repeatedly stressed the various problems associated with immigration detention being managed by groups like private companies like GEO and CCA. In an article posted on our blog in December, ACLU’s Tracey Hayes reported that the GEO Group has witnessed a long and steady rise in its profits while continuing to cut costs on detainee care. According to an article in the Boston Review-

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…Inmates …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 a disturbing side note that underscores the implications of private prison companies being in charge of immigration detention and deportation, the Phoenix News Times connected the Corrections Corporation of America to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s campaign. The article says that months before signing SB1070, Gov. Brewer accepted hundreds of dollars in “seed money” from CCA executives and others “with a possible stake in Arizona’s “papers please” legislation becoming law.” While the donations did not go beyond the limits of how much “seed money” can be received for a campaign, it is difficult to ignore the ethical implications of a company that stands to gain from the passage of the law, funding the campaign.The ugly truth of the matter is that the more people that get questions and detained as a result of Arizona’s racist and extreme new law, the more the private detention facilities stand to profit.

It is imperative that the federal Government understands how urgent the need for reform is. And while ICE takes its time to implement the long-term goals for an overhaul of the detention system, more and more people are suffering from inhumane conditions, sexual abuse and even facing death.

Photo courtesy of texasobserver.org

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ACLU Texas advocate reveals inside look at inhumane conditions and profiteering at GEO managed detention center

reevesProtest_smGuest 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 thayes@aclutx.org.

Photo courtesy of ACLU Texas

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