ACLU uncovers systemic abuse at private prisons for immigrants
A four-year investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Texas has uncovered "pervasive and disturbing" problems within private prisons that hold immigrants for the federal prison system.
The investigation discovered excessive use of solitary confinement, dangerous sanitary conditions, and delayed medical care at five prisons operated under the federal government's Criminal Alien Requirement, a program created to handle the overflow of prisoners who are held for immigration-related crimes.
The prisoners are considered "low security, short-term, sentenced criminal aliens" and are held for crimes including illegal entry to the United States.
There are 13 such prisons nationally, with five located in Texas holding more than 25,000 people at a cost of $600 million.
The investigation was summarized in a report "Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison Industry"
"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," said Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project.
"We are aware of the ACLU's report and take seriously the allegations made in it," said Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The use of the prisons is there to deal with overcrowding at low security institutions, Burke said.
"The Bureau has found that contracting with the private sector provides an effective means of managing low security, specialized populations. The majority of these inmates are sentenced criminal aliens who will be deported upon completion of their sentence," he wrote.
Three corporations, Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and Management & Training Corporation run the prisons and did not respond to requests for comment.
The ACLU notes in the report that fully 10 percent of the beds at each prison are reserved for solitary confinement, a figure double or triple the standard use in other prisons.
This leads to widespread use of solitary confinement for minor infractions, the report said.
The ACLU documented excessive use of solitary confinement at all five Texas immigrant prisons: Willacy, Eden Detention Center near San Angelo, Reeves County Detention Center in West Texas, Giles W. Dalby Correctional Facility in Post and Big Spring Correctional Center.
Willacy had been especially notorious the report said and solitary was often used in a prison where most prisoner dormitories are tents holding 200 men each. Willacy became so disreputable after a Congressional review and a 2011 PBS documentary that U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement moved 1,000 inmates from the prison. However, a month later, the prison received a $56 million contract to house prisoners for the Bureau of Prisons instead.
The Bureau of Prisons has monitors in place, Burke said, and the agency has yearly reviews of the prisons in addition to unscheduled inspections. If a prison is operating unsatisfactorily, Burke wrote: "Serious findings identified during these reviews may result in monetary deductions."
This isn't the first time that private prisons have been criticized for their operation. In 2010, three inmates in Arizona escaped from a MTC-operated facility, leading state officials to call the prison "dysfunctional."
A year later, the company sued the state because it had failed to fulfill a guarantee that the prison receive enough prisoners to maintain a 97 percent occupancy rate. The state paid MTC $3 million in 2011.