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The Private Texas Prisons Housing Undocumented Immigrants Are a Disaster

Reeves County Detention Center is one of five prisons in Texas for non-citizen offenders.
Reeves County Detention Center is one of five prisons in Texas for non-citizen offenders.
ACLU of Texas

Until 2011, Luis lived in Mexico, where he made a living building houses. Luis' wife and children, who are American citizens, lived in Los Angeles. Luis visited his wife and children as much as he could, until he was arrested for illegal reentry. For this crime, he served a three-year sentence at Big Spring Correction Center in west Texas, alongside nearly 3,500 other inmates.

Luis is one of over 25,000 non-citizen prisoners currently incarcerated in Criminal Alien Requirement, or CAR, facilities across the United States. And according to a 100-plus page document released today by the ACLU of Texas, the private prison facilities are routinely guilty of prisoner neglect, abuse, medical mistreatment and overcrowding.

There are 13 CAR facilities across the United States, and with five CAR centers, Texas is home to the highest concentration. The rampant abuse at these centers is due largely to the privately-owned, for-profit nature or CAR centers. The Bureau of Prisons has increasingly turned to CAR prisons to house the influx of immigration violators. These CAR facilities exclusively house non-citizens and are lower security prisons than federal prisons.

Some of these Texas facilities are little more than tents, privy to poor plumbing and little protection against the elements. This leads to reports of unsanitary conditions such as overflowing toilets, insect infestations, and overcrowded living quarters. And with a sluggish legal system to process these prisoners out of CAR facilities, the result is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars -- in 2014, the Bureau of Prisons requested $700 million for 2014 to fund privately-run prisons such as CAR facilities, according to the ACLU's report.

The ACLU alleges that the for-profit nature of CAR facilities is an incentive for overcrowding and consequent poor living conditions. In one contract with the Bureau of Prisons -- with the GEO Group, , which one of the five CAR facilities in Texas -- a minimum 90 percent occupancy is stipulated, with a financial per-prisoner payment incentive up to 115 percent occupancy. As a result, many Texas prisoners at Reeves County Detention Center report tightly-knit bunk beds in recreation areas next to poorly maintained bathrooms. The prison yard contains Port-a-Potties that have not been emptied in nearly four years, the ACLU found. Prisoners also report denial or delay of medical treatment and frequent use of isolation cells. The frequency of isolation is easily explained by a contractual agreement requiring 10 percent of CAR prison cells to be exclusively reserved for isolation, says Carl Takei, a staff attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project.

Rebecca Robertson, Legal and Policy Director for the ACLU of Texas, says that the impact on families and communities, in addition to the physical hardships endured by prisoners, is too high.

"One of the hidden prices that we are paying for the criminalization of immigration is this human toll," she said in a teleconference this morning. "We think that everyone deserves basic human dignity," added Executive Director Terri Burke. "We also think its time to stop wasting taxpayer dollars."

The ACLU is formally presenting a comprehensive reform recommendation to the Obama administration, Congress, the Bureau of Prisons, and Departments of Justice and Homeland Security. Among these reforms, the ACLU is requesting a formal investigation into the quality of CAR facilities, and specific legislation to address the problems incurred by criminalizing immigration and partnerships with privatized non-citizen prison facilities.


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