Texans United for Families speak out against new for-profit immigrant detention center in Texas


Texans United for Families (TUFF) and Grassroots Leadership, two civil rights organizations working to end immigrant detention, spoke yesterday in Karnes City, Texas to protest the newest private prison in Texas to be built there, one hour southeast of San Antonio.  The GEO Group, the private prison company that will build and operate the facility, has a track record of abuse, deaths in custody, and mismanagement at their Texas prisons and detention centers which have led to several lawsuits. 

The U.S. government jails over 30,000 immigrants every day in prisons called immigrant detention centers.  The Obama administration has increased these detentions from the Bush administration, but this new prison in Karnes City would be the first new detention center since President Obama took office and made pledges to reform immigration policy and the massive immigrant detention system.   

Karnes County, the GEO Group and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency) appear to have attempted passing their contract in secrecy with no public comment.  As the Karnes County Judge Kendall stated at yesterday’s hearing, “DHS told me not to say anything to anyone (about the contract negotiations for the new prison)”. 
The hearing yesterday was in Karnes County because ICE prefers to use a local municipal or county government as the “go-between” in its contracts with private prison companies.  These contracts (known as Inter-Government Service Agreements or IGAs) allow the federal government to circumvent having public competitive bidding on contracts and allow liability of the prisons to be shifted to local governments and not the for-profit prison companies. 
Karnes County’s Commissioner’s Court opened yesterday with a prayer, a prayer which ended with “Dear Lord… we sure need some rain”.  The GEO Group came to answer these prayers for the impoverished rural county of just 15,000 people.  While studies have shown that private prisons and detention centers do not help local economies, the GEO Group’s representative at yesterday’s hearing claimed 140 new employees would be hired and the county would receive thousands of dollars in revenue. When questioned by Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership of these claims, Judge Kendall assured the court that those contract questions would be answered.  They were not and the vote to move forward on the prison passed quickly, and unanimously. 
GEO warden testifying to county court. Photo by JJ Barrera
Austin Indymedia joined Texans United for Families in the drive yesterday to the hearing in Karnes.  Three members of TUFF spoke to the court to stop the deal from going forward, the only people to speak on the issue.  The following is an excerpt of their comments: 
Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership: “The GEO Group is a terrible partner for civil detention center….It has a long history of prisoner abuse, of deaths in custody and of lawsuits.” 
Andrea Mastromatteo of Austin Indymedia:  “My father was detained and deported from this country 40 years, his crime was an expired student visa.  My eyes are burnt with an image of his eyes welling up every time he remembers his first night in detention, which was spent hearing another immigration detainee being raped in the cell beside him.  The horrible nature of immigration detention has not changed.  Regardless of how ‘civil’ this detention center may be, it continues to keep people deprived of their liberty when they shouldn’t be.” 
Geoff Valdés of TUFF:  “Karnes is setting itself up for lawsuits with this deal with the GEO Group.  Karnes County has not even had a public hearing into the impacts of this contract.” 
Despite the unanimous vote for the new prison, TUFF will continue its fight to end immigrant detention in Texas.  Texans United for Families is a member of Detention Watch Network and their national campaign, Dignity Not Detention to stop the expansion of the detention system.  To find out more about TUFF, email tuff at grassrootsleadership dot com 
Texans United for Families is a network of social service, legal, advocacy, student, and community groups and individuals working to oppose immigration detention. We work on campaigns that strengthen the bonds between communities, organize support of community-based alternatives to end detention, and forefront the stories of detained immigrants and their families.



Re: Texans United for Families speak out against new for-profit immigrant detention center in Texas

 Wackenhut Corrections Becomes GEO Group

Having expanded into providing food services for U.S. prisons in the 1960s, Wackenhut in 1984 launched a subsidiary to design and manage jails and detention centers for the burgeoning private prison market. Wackenhut then became the nation's second largest for-profit prison operator.

In April 1999, the state of Louisiana took over the running of Wackenhut's 15-month-old juvenile prison after the U.S. Justice Department accused Wackenhut of subjecting its young inmates to "excessive abuse and neglect." U.S. journalist Gregory Palast commented on the case: "New Mexico's privately operated prisons are filled with America's impoverished, violent outcasts — and those are the guards." He catalogued lax background checks before hiring guards, which led to several alleged cases of guards physically and sexually abusing inmates. In the U.S., Wackenhut has appeared in the federal courts 62 times since 1999, largely resulting from prisoners' claims of human rights abuses. The company has been accused of trying to maximise profits in its private prisons at the expense of drug rehabilitation, counselling and literacy programs. In 1995 Wackenhut was investigated for diverting $700,000 intended for drug treatment programs at a Texas prison.

The GEO Group, Inc. now runs former Wackenhut facilities in 14 states, as well as in South Africa and Australia. Some facilities, such as the Wackenhut Corrections Centers in New York, retain the Wackenhut name despite no longer having any open connection with the company.



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