Our departed Matt Pulle, now at our sister paper in Nashville, is blogging about the T. Don Hutto Residential Facility in Taylor, the former prison now used to detain immigrant families and children, most of whom are seeking asylum. As some of you may recall, before the American Civil Liberties Union sued Immigrations and Customs and Enforcement and its contractor, Corrections Corporation of America, Hutto was the sort of place where children wore prison jumpsuits, received shoddy schooling and were threatened with separation from their parents if they didn’t shut up.
It’s nice to hear things aren’t quite as dire now -- apparently, murals grace the walls, and class instruction has been improved. Yet given the government’s plans to build another three facilities to house families, Pulle raises a good question: Why did it take a lawsuit to improve the horrid conditions at Hutto, which is run by a profitable Nashville company?
In his reporting for the Nashville Scene’s cover story about CCA’s worrisome shortcomings at prisons across the country, he came across a secret ICE memo that details why a detention facility in Laredo would have been preferable to Hutto. One of the concerns about Hutto -- aside from the prominent barbed wire and barred cells -- was, apparently, its proximity to Austin’s activist community, who turned out to be the ones who disclosed the place’s problems. Below, some excerpts from the memo. --Megan Feldman
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“The Laredo facility has an 'open dorm' concept; the dorms at Hutto are cells within bars.”
“Barbed wire completely surrounds the Hutto facility, whereas Laredo has barbed wire on the backside which is not visible in front of the building.”
“Hutto has not passed previous inspections as an ADULT facility. It appears that it would be more difficult to meet standards for juveniles.”
“The railroad trains frequently block intersections to the Hutto facility thus making access difficult. Evacuations at Hutto would be more difficult. In the case of a train derailment, the risk of hazardous material by families would be present.”
“Austin, which is 25 miles from Hutto, has a broader NGO and CBO base that have typically been very strong advocates for immigrants. The Political Asylum Project of Austin also known as PAPA is a pro-bono agency actively involved in the advocacy for immigrants.”