BY CRISTINA COSTANTINI JORGE RIVAS
A PRIVATE AND PROFITABLE
CORNER OF THE
FEDERAL PRISON SYSTEM THRIVES
The U.S. government has quietly created a second-class federal prison system specifically for immigrants. For years the Department of Homeland Security has been known as the agency that houses immigrants awaiting deportation. However, tens of thousands of additional immigrants, most serving sentences for immigration crimes, are held by the Bureau of Prisons each night before being sent back.
And it’s all part of a lucrative business model which has funneled billions of taxpayer dollars into the private prison industry.
A Fusion investigation found that without a single vote in Congress, officials across three administrations: created a new classification of federal prisons only for immigrants; decided that private companies would run the facilities; and filled them by changing immigration enforcement practices.
"You build a prison, and then you've got to find someone to put in them,” said Texas state Sen. John Whitmire, who has seen five of the 13 Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons built in his state. “So they widen the net and find additional undocumented folks to fill them up"
Most of the roughly 23,000 immigrants held each night in CAR prisons have committed immigration infractions -- crimes that a decade ago would have resulted in little more than a bus trip back home. And now, some of the very same officials who oversaw agencies that created and fueled the system have gone on to work for the private prison companies that benefited most.
The low-security facilities are often squalid, rife with abuse, and use solitary confinement excessively, according to advocates.
Built in remote towns across the country, these prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates in solitary confinement as other federal facilities, an American Civil Liberties Union report found. Inmates are allegedly placed in solitary confinement for complaining about food, medical care or filing grievances.
At one prison in Texas, officials placed a 32-year-old-man with epilepsy in solitary confinement to allegedly provide him with extra medical attention. However, the man died weeks later in solitary without enough medication in his system and without medical supervision, according to the man’s family who later sued the government and the company that ran the prison.
IMMIGRATION-RELATED OFFENSES MAKE UP THE MAJORITY OF CONVICTIONS FOR IMMIGRANTS IN THE FEDERAL SYSTEM
Roughly two-thirds of immigrants who serve time in the federal prison system are locked up for “illegal reentry” -- an offense that was once rarely prosecuted. In 2005, that changed. The federal government decided to ramp up prosecutions under an internal program called Operation Streamline and the number of cases has risen over 183 percent since its implementation, with an average sentence of 18 months behind bars.
PROSECUTIONS FOR "ILLEGAL REENTRY" HAVE RISEN OVER 183% SINCE 2004
FEDERAL CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS FOR ILLEGAL RE-ENTRY
The ramp-up in enforcement prompted a spike in immigration beds across three federal agencies. Today, the Bureau of Prisons’ contracts provide more taxpayer dollars to private prison companies than facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the last five years, the two largest prison companies have made nearly $2 billion in revenue from their CAR prison agreements.
In the years leading up to the crackdown, private prison companies spent more money than ever lobbying the federal government. The two largest companies -- Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group -- have also long supported elected officials whose legislative efforts result in more business for them. Both companies insist their lobbying dollars focus on promoting their services and not shaping laws.
“To be clear, neither CCA nor its federally registered lobbyists have ever lobbied specifically or directly for or against Operation Streamline,” a CCA spokesperson wrote in an email.
Judith Greene, the director of a Brooklyn-based criminal justice think tank Justice Strategies that has tracked the growth of the prisons, disagrees.
“It’s an oversimplification to say private prisons single-handedly created the system we have now,” said Greene. “But they are enablers and more than just that because once they enable they are clearly pushing for more -- despite what they'll tell you."
An analysis of contracts obtained by Fusion found that private prisons charge roughly between $50 and $75 a day for each immigrant they hold. The companies make between 20 percent and 30 percent in profit on each bed, according to market research estimates by CRT Capital Group.
These profits are passed on to company leadership. Executive positions at the prison companies pay much better than those in government. Three out of the last four Bureau of Prisons directors now sit on the boards of the biggest prison companies.
Many other government officials at the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security who were in charge when Operation Streamline was implemented and immigrant prisons were built now work in the private prison industry. They joined other former officials who had already made the move.
Harley Lappin oversaw the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) when it awarded five immigrant prison contracts to GEO, three to CCA, and one to another private prison company. In early 2011, shortly after being arrested for drunk driving, Lappin resigned from his role as director. Two months later, he joined CCA as the company’s executive vice president and chief corrections officer.
Lappin was paid $1,514,706 in his new position at CCA in 2013, according to a statement to shareholders. As the director of Bureau of Prisons he made roughly $180,000 a year.
In Washington, moving from the public sector to the private sector is not uncommon for government officials. But in the prison industry "the revolving door" is worse than in other sectors, according to Sen. Whitmire of Texas.
“It poses a conflict of interest if they don’t have an arm’s-length relationship when they’re doing their official duties,” said Whitmire, who believes the issue needs more oversight.
“You certainly wouldn’t want people lining up their next job doing favors for the people they want to go work for,” he said.
CCA did not respond to a request for comment regarding Lappin’s current or former role in negotiating contracts. The company said in statement it is “committed to accountability and transparency in [their] government affairs practices.”
In the summer of 1993, the Clinton administration proposed a hot new idea that was meant to deliver on two campaign promises: putting more criminals behind bars and slashing the number of employees on the federal payroll to save money. The proposal -- that the federal government explore private prison options -- was initially met with internal resistance.
"I HAD THE IMPRESSION THEN AND I HAVE THE IMPRESSION NOW THAT [PRIVATE FEDERAL PRISONS] ARE A MISTAKE," FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL PHILIP B. HEYMANN TOLD FUSION.
As the second in command of the agency that oversees the Bureau of Prisons, Heymann said his colleagues at the time were sold on the idea that private prisons were cheaper and better than government facilities. He still does not believe either to be true.
“The companies make it very challenging to make determinations of what is most cost effective," he said.
Proponents of privatization won out and by 1996 Congress voted to set aside money for low-security privately operated federal prisons, mirroring a move toward private prisons that was already occurring at the state level. The BOP decided in an internal decision that immigrants would fill them, but very little is known about why. The Bureau of Prisons, after repeated requests, did not provide comment about how or why the decision was made.
There’s little evidence that CAR prisons are saving any taxpayer money. When the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that there was not enough cost comparison data to know either way, Lappin, while he was still the head of BOP, wrote back in a public letter that his agency did not “see the value” in making companies provide more data because it could “increase current contract costs.”
He defended the contracts by saying that federal facilities were overcrowded and that companies were better able to “anticipate the growing inmate populations” and are “continually prepared to expand their operations.”
In 2007, former U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, introduced a bill called the Private Prison Information Act that would have required private companies to disclose more financial information. Keith Pemrick, Holden’s former legislative director, said private prison lobbying was a large part of the reason the bill died.
“I know at the time they moved hard against the bill,” Pemrick, who now is a lobbyist himself, told Fusion. “ I know they were in offices lobbying and talking to people about it.”
CCA AND GEO GROUP SPENT THE MOST MONEY LOBBYING IN THE YEAR OPERATION STREAMLINE WAS IMPLEMENTED
PRIVATE PRISON LOBBYING BY YEAR
Getting detailed information about the private prison industry is incredibly difficult because company records are often exempt from the Freedom of Information Act under a provision intended to protect trade secrets.
CCA and GEO declined to comment specifically on Holden’s bill or if they played any role in stopping its passage. A GEO spokesperson noted that the company “does not take a position on or advocate for any specific criminal justice.” CCA wrote in an email to Fusion that “they comply with all applicable open-records laws and share information freely with our government partners” but the government is the “final determinant of what is ultimately available to the public. ”
Lappin argued in his letter to the GAO that even without the data they requested, he was confident that contract prices were fair because they are bid on in “full and open competitions.”
One company at least is “known for negotiating beds directly with the government rather than going through a traditional competitive process,” Brian Ruttenbur, a market analyst at CRT Capital Group, wrote in a report regarding CCA.
“They have their marketing people out there, and those people go, ‘Hey I just talked to my buddy who is within the Federal Bureau of Prisons, they have this wave of [inmates] coming, why don’t we go get them a proposal before they put one out and let’s suggest something to them?’” Ruttenbur, who rated both companies favorably for investors, told Fusion.
“You go in there with a proposal and you say, ‘How about we just build this facility right next to this one? This will alleviate all your stresses,’“’ he said, noting the companies often build on speculation before contracts are even put out by the government.
“You know, it’s that kind of situation,” Ruttenbur said.
Neither the BOP nor the CCA commented on Ruttenbur’s assessment.
THE HUMAN COST
The prisons are run with “pervasive patterns of neglect and abuse of the prisoners,” according to a four-year investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union that included more than 250 interviews with people incarcerated in CAR facilities.
Prisoners the ACLU interviewed recounted cases where inmates were reportedly sent to isolation cells because they complained about food, medical care or helped others draft grievances and file lawsuits. The report also claims that due to overcrowding spillover prisoners are sometimes sent to the solitary confinement unit arbitrarily.
THE ACLU FOUND "PERVASIVE PATTERNS OF NEGLECT AND ABUSE OF PRISONERS" IN CRIMINAL ALIEN REQUIREMENT FACILITIES.
Both GEO and CCA denied the allegations. GEO wrote their “facilities provide high quality services in safe, secure, and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”
The contracts reviewed by Fusion stipulate that 10 percent of the bed space must be in the solitary confinement wing. That’s nearly twice the percent of inmates held in solitary across all Bureau of Prison facilities. Neither company or the BOP commented on this allegation.
“That is an extremely high rate of inmates in solitary conditions,” said Lance Lowry, a correctional officer in Huntsville, Texas who is the president of the state’s correctional officer union. “That ought to raise a red flag. Especially when you're dealing with [low] custody inmates who are not in there for a traditional felony criminal violation. These are people who stepped across our border unauthorized.”
At one facility reviewed by the ACLU, four inmates died over the course of one year in 2008, including a 32-year-old man named Jesus Manuel Galindo who was placed in solitary confinement to keep him under closer medical watch. Galindo’s death came just months after another man committed suicide in solitary confinement.
In December of 2007, Galindo was convicted of “illegal reentry” and sent to Reeves. The company that operated it, The GEO Group, boasted that it was the “largest detention/correctional facility under private management in the world” with almost 4,000 beds for immigrants.
What was supposed to be a 30-month prison sentence in a low-security facility turned into a death sentence for Galindo.
Galindo’s parents told Fusion their son passed away in a solitary unit where he lacked proper medical care.Their lawsuit also alleged that medical staff failed to give Galindo the correct medication after he alerted them on more than 25 occasions and suffered multiple seizures behind bars. It also claims that Galindo’s cell had a broken intercom system and lacked any video surveillance mechanism. The BOP and GEO did not comment on Galindo’s case after repeated requests.
When inmates heard that Galindo had died, the prison erupted in a riot, an FBI investigation found.
"THESE GUYS DIED FOR NEGLIGENCE. [THE PRISON WARDEN] GOT PEOPLE IN HERE DYING IN HERE AND HE DOESN'T DO ANYTHING SO THAT’S WHY WE HAVE THIS DEMONSTRATION.”
REEVES INMATE IN PHONE CALL TO LOCAL NEWS AFFILIATE
The first riot at Reeves lasted 24-hours and reportedly caused $1 million in damages, according to the Texas Observer. The second riot the following month lasted five days and reportedly caused some $20 million in damages. This, all at a low-security prison.
The lawsuit settled out of court for an undisclosed amount in 2013. The medical contractor, PNA, has since been purchased by a larger medical provider Correct Care Solutions. When reached for comment, the former president of PNA, Don Houston, said that he could not comment on the case.
Texas Prison Riot Points to Privatization Problems
BY BILL WEINBERG · MON FEB 23, 2015
The town of Raymondville, Tex., got a shock over the weekend as the local Willacy County Correctional Center exploded into an uprising by prisoners upset over conditions and poor medical services at the facility. The inmates set fire to several kevlar domes or tents that serve as housing for the 2,800 prisoners at the facility, rendering the prison "uninhabitable." The federal Bureau of Prisons and FBI as well as Texas Rangers and highway patrol were called in to evacuate the inmates to other facilities and negotiate with those who refused to move. Raymondville's residents were advised to stay indoors during the stand-off, and a local school was put on "soft lockdown." The Correctional Center, which mostly holds undocumented immigrants, is run by the private Management & Training Corp.
According to a report last year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the large kevlar tents that make up the facility are "not only foul, cramped and depressing, but also overcrowded." According to the report, prisoners at the facility said their health complaints were ignored, or met with corner-cutting treatment. Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project, told the local Valley Morning Star the courts have determined that the denial of appropriate medical care amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. "Government institutions like the Bureau of Prisons can't evade their responsibility to provide inmates with proper medical care just by handing control of a prison to a private contractor like MTC," he said.
Seven things to know about uprising at Texas private prison for immigrants
by Bob Libal
This weekend, a private prison incarcerating immigrant prisoners in Willacy County, Texas erupted into a major uprising. While most of the media over the weekend has focused narrowly on the uprising itself (with some notable exceptions, including this excellent article from Fusion), incarcerated immigrants and advocates have for years been warning that these prisons are tinderboxes of horrendous conditions waiting to explode (and at times have already done so). Here are some things about the Willacy County Correctional Center and the context of incarcerating immigrants in substandard private prisons that has made these facilities so very dangerous.
1) The Willacy facility was so plagued with abuse and mismanagement that ICE ended its contract. The Willacy County Correctional Center was formerly an Immigration and Customs Enforcment (ICE) contracted detention center where sexual and physical abuse and medical neglect were so rampant that ICE ended its contract in 2011. Immigration advocates regularly protested the facility and a Maria Hinojosa-reported exposé for Frontline was one of the many pieces denoting the appalling conditions at Willacy.
2) The facility is now contracted by the Bureau of Prisons as one of the agency's notorious "CAR" prisons. Just months after ICE ended its contract, the BOP began sending immigrants convicted of crimes — many for re-entering the United States after deportation — to the facility. Willacy is now one of 13 "Criminal Alien Requirement" (CAR) facilities contracted by the agency. CAR facilities are privately-operated prisons within the BOP where immigrant prisoners are segregated into facilities that even the agency admits are substandard. The ACLU's excellent report on CAR prisons in Texas last year documented just some of the abysmal conditions that plague these prisons.
3) The facility is nicknamed "Tent City" or "Ritmo." While an ICE contracted facility, the Willacy detention center was dubbed Tent City by local advocates and the media because two thirds of the facility is built out of a series of Kevlar pods. The facility was also designated Ritmo (or Raymondville's Guantanamo) in the media because of its enormous size and appalling conditions.
4) This is at least the third major uprising at CAR private prison in recent years. An uprising that led to the death of a guard and many injured immigrant prisoners at the Corrections Corporation of America CAR facility in Adams County, Mississippi in 2012 was brought about by poor conditions detailed in this report by Justice Strategies. Another uprising at the Reeves County, Texas CAR facility operated by private prison corporation GEO Group in 2008 followed the death of prisoner Jesus Manuel Galindo and was covered excellently by the Texas Observer amongst other media outlets.
5) CAR facilities are horrible places, but insanely profitable for private prison corporations. The contract for the Willacy County Correctional Center with the BOP is worth more than half a billion dollars over the course of the 10 year contract.
6) CAR prisons are expanding because the government is criminally prosecuting immigrants en masse at the border. Even at a time of bi-partisan support for federal criminal justice reforms, mass prosecutions of immigrants for crossing the border continue. In fact, since the initiation of "Operation Streamline" in the mid-2000s, two simple immigration charges have become the most prosecuted offenses in the federal court system, accounting for than 90,000 criminal prosecutions in 2013. Recently, the U.N. Committee for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination called for the abolition of Operation Streamline, and the end to the criminal prosecution of what were once civil immigration offenses.
7) Willacy County is a prison community that deeply endebted itself to build private prisons. Willacy County, through a quasi-governmental agency called a Public Facilities Corporation, floated tens of millions of dollars in debt in the mid-2000s to build private prisons. Raymondville is home to three neighboring private prisons, the 2,800-bed BOP CAR facility contracted to MTC that erupted this weekend, the neighboring 500-bed Willacy County Regional Detention Center operated by MTC under a U.S. Marshals contract, and the 1,000-bed Willacy State Jail, now operated by Corrections Corporation of America. The Willacy State Jail was previously operated by private prison corporation GEO Group and was where Gregorio de la Rosa was brutally beaten to death in 2001 as guards looked on. De la Rosa's death led to to the lawsuit settlement against a private prison in U.S. history.
Texas prison riot: 2,800 inmates to be moved from now ‘uninhabitable’ facility
After 2,000 inmates, mostly immigrants, took over a Texas prison in a riot over poor medical services, federal authorities have decided to relocate all the detainees from the now “uninhabitable” correctional facility.
The riot at the Willacy County Correctional Center erupted on Friday afternoon, when prisoners refused to eat breakfast or report for work to protest medical services at the facility.
The prison was practically run over by the inmates, who continue to hold down the fort. It still remains unclear what medical service issues had upset the inmates. Only around 800 to 900 inmates have refused to riot in a facility that holds some 2,900 people, most of whom are immigrants with criminal record.
Negotiations were ongoing Saturday in an effort to “regain complete control”of the prison after multiple agencies, including federal and state authorities, became involved in securing the perimeter, said Ed Ross, a spokesman for the US Bureau of Prisons. The spokesman added that prisoners are “now compliant,” but might be moved to other institutions as damage from rioting made the facility“uninhabitable.”
FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said Saturday evening that the situation “is not resolved, though we're moving toward a peaceful resolution,” at the correctional facility run by Management & Training Corp. (MTC)
According to MTC, on Friday inmates “breached” their barracks and reached the recreation yard, setting fire inside three of the prison's housing units.
“Correctional officers used non-lethal force, tear gas, to attempt to control the unruly offenders,” spokesman Issa Arnita said in a statement.
There is no danger to the public as the two perimeter security fences were not breached by the inmates, authorities say.
According to Sheriff Larry Spence there were no hostages in the standoff. So far only minor injuries have been reported since the inmates “have pipes they can use as weapons.”
Willacy prison was described as “overcrowded” and “unclean” in a June report from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said inmates' medical concerns were “ignored” or “inadequately addressed by staff.”
Inmates riot at
for-profit Texas immigrant detention facility
Prisoners protested inadequate medical care at private facility that mostly holds immigrants who entered US illegally
by Renee Lewis
At least 300 inmates were transferred from a Texas prison on Monday after a riot broke out in the facility — which holds mostly immigrants detained for crossing into the United States illegally — leaving it "uninhabitable," according to authorities.
The prisoners were protesting inadequate medical services, which — along with cruel treatment and sexual abuse — has been a common complaint in private prisons housing undocumented immigrants, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other rights groups.
Icy conditions caused delays with the transfer of more than 2,000 others from the federal prison, local media reported.
The uprising, or “unrest” as prison officials called it, began early Friday at the Willacy County Correctional Center — operated by private prison company Management & Training Corp (MTC) on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Privately-held MTC's 10-year contract with the federal government is worth about half a billion dollars.
The facility is located about 40 miles from the Mexico border in Raymondville, Texas, and has been nicknamed Ritmo, or Raymondville's Guantanamo, for its "crammed and squalid" conditions.
Two-hundred inmates are packed into each Kevlar dome, the tent-like structures that serve as housing, with no privacy between beds or in the bathrooms where toilets and showers are open without partitions, the ACLU said in a 2014 report entitled "Warehoused and Forgotten."
Insects and spiders crawl through holes in the tents and bite detainees. Toilets frequently overflow, and the water was shut off for days in 2012 after it started to look yellowish-green, according to the report. Authorities gave inmates bottled water two days later.
Prisoners refused to come to breakfast or report for work on Friday in protest of what they said was inadequate medical service at the prison. Inmates broke out of housing structures and converged in the recreation yard, setting fire to several Kevlar domes.
Guards responded with tear gas and other nonlethal forms of crowd control, and only minor injuries were reported.
The riot left the prison "uninhabitable," according to Ed Ross, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. As many as 2,800 prisoners will be moved to other institutions, he added.
It is not the first riot at the facility. Last February, authorities ordered a lockdown after a disturbance at the correctional center. State, county and local law enforcement agencies had to be asked to assist in guarding the facility, according to local media.
The ACLU report also found a pattern of abuse and inhumane conditions at four other privately run federal prisons in Texas that house immigrants.
Those facilities, known as “Criminal Alien Requirement,” or CAR, prisons for immigrants, house noncitizens most of whom have only been convicted of immigration offenses.
“At the CAR prisons we investigated, the prisoners lived day to day not knowing if their basic human needs would be met, whether they would get medical attention if they were hurt or ill,” Carl Takei, staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, said in a press release in June of last year. “The Bureau of Prisons creates perverse incentives for the for-profit prison companies to endanger human health and lives.”
The 13 CAR prisons in the U.S. hold more than 25,000 immigrants. This weekend’s uprising is the third such event at CAR prisons in the last seven years. In 2008, the death of inmate sparked an uprising at another Texas prison. Then in 2012, a prison insurrection over mistreatment led to the death of a guard.
The Willacy facility was formerly an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center. But after Frontline reported rampant sexual and physical abuse and medical neglect at the facility from 2006-2011, ICE announced it was transferring detainees out of Willacy. MTC obtained a new contract to hold prisoners for the Bureau of Prisons — the same contract they operate under today, the ACLU said in its report.
The next morning he was found dead in his cell. The autopsy revealed Galindo died of epilepsy with “below therapeutic” levels of medicine in his body. Neither the Bureau of Prisons nor GEO Group have ever admitted fault for the death.
Prison guards and police gloat on Facebook about how they "deal with monkeys" in Texas' Willacy County Correctional Center riots
After 2,800 inmates at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Texas protested the lack of medical services there by rioting Friday, using pipes as weapons to take control of the facility, current and former employees of Management & Training Corp., the private corporation that operates Willacy County, boasted about the joys of squashing prison riots.
“Thank god that I’m a cop now no more dealing with monkey’s lol,” one former employee gloated on the thread. Another replied, “The memories of a riot, music to my ears.”
An active prison guard answered back: “Hell yea we actually wanted it to happen just to give us something to do.” Yet another guard commented on how he enjoys taunting prisoners for the opportunity to physically challenge them: “Just to take inmates down. You would get a rush. You were like do something I dare you no i want you to.”
As correctional officers used tear gas to contain the riot, supportive calls to “gas them” were also particularly popular in the threads: “I miss that shit tho! Those were the days, just gas them take them to a dark corner and drop them and bring the next guy in.”
Some comments referenced the Wackenhut private security company, which was infamous for its human rights abuses. “Yeah gas them and sure does sound like them old Wackenhut days.”
Workers weren’t the only ones on Facebook celebrating violence against prisoners. On another Facebook page, a police officer’s wife posted a meme followed by the quote “To my second family at MTC 2, lets show’em how it’s done!!! Here comes the pain baby!!!” Her husband responded: “Oh yeah while it last babe lol.”