Taylor, TX — Last week, in a move seemingly designed to ensure mass detention continues for another decade, ICE awarded 10-year contracts to private prison corporations to operate two notorious Texas detention centers — CorecCivic’s T. Don Hutto and GEO Group’s South Texas Detention Complex. The move comes after ongoing opposition to the long-term contracts including from more than 45 organizations and Texas Representatives.
Thursday, CoreCivic announced on its quarterly investor conference call that it has signed a 10-year contract renewal with ICE at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas and expects a similar award for the Houston Processing Center. It also said ICE is going to make millions of dollars in repairs to the facilities. GEO Group similarly announced that it had signed a new 10-year contract for the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas.
“This move by the Trump administration appears designed to lock in a decade worth of detention in Texas, benefiting private prison corporations for years to come,” said Bethany Carson, Immigration researcher and organizer at Grassroots Leadership. “Making backdoor deals to line the pockets of private prison corporations at the expense of people confined behind bars while COVID-19 is spreading like wildfire shows the complete disregard for human life in ICE custody and how perverse financial incentives are the bedrock of incarceration.”
This latest development comes after years of widespread community efforts to close T. Don Hutto, which is located in the small Texas town of Taylor. In June 2018, advocates successfully pushed Williamson County Commissioners to end their Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with ICE and CoreCivic for the Hutto detention center. Individuals detained at T. Don Hutto have reported multiple COVID-19 cases and several employee cases have been publicly confirmed. ICE, however, does not include the Hutto facility in its “COVID-19 ICE Detainee Statistics by Facility” tracking, prompting concerns over a lack of transparency and incomplete reporting by ICE.
“ICE actively hides information from the public to evade accountability and silence those that speak out against its inhumane practices,” added Carson. “At this point, the details of the contracts including the length of their duration and justification remain shrouded in secrecy. Furthermore, the news of an expected contract award for the Houston Processing Center was particularly baffling as a contract valued at nearly $50 million was already awarded to the facility in March.”
The T. Don Hutto facility is currently operating in secrecy and has blocked community leaders from visitation to prevent any form of documentation. The facility has a long history of abuse including multiple sexual assaults by guards since 2010 and forced labor allegations currently in litigation. The South Texas Detention Complex, operated by the GEO Group, has subjected immigrants to indefinite solitary confinement, often as a form of retaliation. In 2018, the South Texas Detention Complex was identified as one of the top 15 immigrant detention centers with the most placements in solitary confinement.
In June, Congressman Joaquin Castro visited the South Texas Detention Complex and condemned conditions at the facility. In relation to the new contracts, Congressman Castro stated, “In the middle of this deadly pandemic, immigration detention centers are a petri dish for the coronavirus. Last month, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus joined me in visiting ICE facilities in Dilley and Pearsall to conduct oversight. It was a scary and devastating experience to see ICE's lack of severity for COVID-19. With no safety protocols implemented, 45 employees and 961 detainees have already tested positive for COVID-19. This is a public health crisis, and by keeping thousands detained in ICE daily, ICE risks exacerbating the public health crisis if there are massive outbreaks which can overwhelm local health systems. ICE must safely and swiftly release as many people detained as possible, starting with families, children and vulnerable populations.”
Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works for a more just society where prison profiteering, mass incarceration, deportation, and criminalization are things of the past. Follow us @Grassroots_News.
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.