Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Posts Tagged ‘immigration detention

String of Lawsuits Isn’t Scaring States Away from Corrections Corp. of America

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Bob Ortega of the Arizona Republic has been reporting an excellent series on the private prison business. This article is a must-read for summarizing the many connections between Arizona local and state officials and the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America. Definitely go read the article, and the “Price of Prisons” series it’s part of, in full. For the purposes of this blog, the highlight of the article is the litany of lawsuits that CCA is facing all over the country. Several stem from the Arizona CCA facilities where Hawaii ships a large number of its prisoners. One Hawaii inmate alleges he was forced to give oral sex to a guard at an Arizona CCA prison; 18 Hawaiian inmates say they were stripped, beaten, and threatened by guards in retaliation for a fight; two other Hawaii inmates were killed by other inmates and their families are alleging that prison security was inadequate. Elsewhere around the country, three female inmates claim they were sexually assaulted at a Kentucky CCA facility; after a series of sexual assault cases nationwide, both Kentucky and Hawaii have removed all their female prisoners from CCA institutions. The most notorious CCA lawsuit, though, is the Idaho “Gladiator School” suit, which alleges 13 instances in which CCA officers opened doors to let violent inmates attack other prisoners and did not intervene during the beatings.

Here, as reported by Ortega, is CCA’s response:

Asked about the suits, CCA’s Owen said, “These are allegations that have not yet been proven in a court of law. These are not established facts, and we respond in court, so I’m not at liberty to respond.”

He said that in June, Hawaii awarded CCA a three-year, $136.5 million contract to continue housing that state’s inmates in Arizona.

“That was a competitive-bid process,” Owen said.

CCA was the only bidder.

“There isn’t a corrections system in the country that’s immune to lawsuits or incidents,” Owen said. “Those don’t necessarily tell the whole story. You have to look at our overall track record. . . . Do incidents occur? Yes. Are we responsive when things happen? Do our partners continue to trust and work with us? Yes.”

The article also notes the troubling lack of security at the Arizona private prisons where many California prisoners are transferred. I’ve heard from prisoners who’ve done time in private prisons that they did not feel safe there. Paid a low hourly wage, private prison guards have little incentive to risk physical harm by intervening in violent situations. In addition, Ortega’s article points out that CCA does not perform full background checks on guards or check whether they have relationships with inmates.

Summer Reading: YES! Magazine and Reason Magazine

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At my local Borders yesterday I noticed not just one but two magazines on the newsstand featuring criminal justice topics this month:

  • YES! Magazine‘s Beyond Prisons issue features articles on Washington State’s prison university program, Maori responses to youth crime, Hawaii’s women’s prison, and more. For activists, organizers, etc.: YES! licenses all its content through Creative Commons, so you can reprint the articles in your own publications without worrying about copyright. Just make sure you follow the magazine’s reprint guidelines here.
  • Reason Magazine‘s Criminal Injustice issue includes pieces on the California prison guards’ union, the relationship between incarceration and the crime rate, sexual assault behind bars, the immigration detention system, and more.
I’m glad to see publications from across the political spectrum taking up the cause of criminal justice reform.

Written by sara

June 24, 2011 at 11:08 am

U.S. Deports Man to Haiti. He Gets Cholera in a Haitian Jail and Dies.

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Wildrick Guerrier, 34, has apparently died of cholera in a Haitian jail. Guerrier was among the 27 Haitians deported by the U.S. on January 20 despite the fact that Haiti has a massive ongoing cholera epidemic. He had lived in the United States since he was 16 as a Legal Permanent Resident, and was completing an 18-month criminal sentence when he was transferred to ICE detention and ordered deported in November 2010. (CORRECTION: I should note that it’s not been confirmed that Guerrier had cholera; his symptoms were extreme vomiting and diarrhea. So he could also have died of simple gastrointestinal distress that went untreated in the chaotic conditions of the Haitian jails.)

Advocacy groups have been begging ICE that it’s still too dangerous to deport anyone to Haiti; the U.S. has yet to even respond to their emergency petition. Now we know of at least one casualty of ICE’s insistence on continuing with “business as usual” even if it means deporting people into a country where they are likely to be thrown into a festering, cholera-ridden, overcrowded jail.

About a week ago, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and the Center for Constitutional Rights issued a press release accusing the U.S. of “deportations to a death trap.” Now it seems their accusations were all too well founded:

In December, ICE detained more than 300 Haitians. Many were then transferred to three remote jails in Louisiana – far from their families, attorneys and supporters. Most had served their criminal sentences and, prior to this round-up, had been released from ICE detention. Some have serious medical conditions. Most have U.S. relatives who are legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens who will be hurt by their loss.

The routine practice of the Haitian government is to jail deportees with criminal histories under conditions widely documented as atrocious and inhumane. Prisoners are not fed or provided medical care. Whether or not they have served a criminal sentence, no Haitian should be sent to a cholera-infested jail where they risk death. For its part, Haiti does not need United States to send it more people to feed and shelter.

Written by sara

February 1, 2011 at 11:42 am

“Sexual Assault and Abuse Rampant in Immigration Detention Centers”

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That’s the headline of this Campus Progress report (h/t: Adam Serwer). Immigration detention generally happens in private prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America or county jails that contract with ICE. LGBT detainees are especially at risk:

And at the San Pedro Service Processing Center in California, a guard forced a transgender woman to repeatedly perform oral sex on him while she waited for her attorney in a holding cell. Even after she reported the incident, the staff took so long arranging for evidence collection that she was forced to wait overnight to wash out her mouth.

Violence against LGBT detainees, in particular, is a growing problem, as they are especially vulnerable within the detention system. In addition to being singled out for harassment as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity, transgender women often face the added risk. They are often housed with male detainees and supervised by male guards. Under those conditions, transgender women are even more susceptible to violence than those held in women-only facilities. …

Unfortunately, efforts to safeguard this particularly vulnerable population have proven distinctly harmful as well. For instance, when the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted site visits of seven Southwest detention centers last year, they were troubled to find that some facilities attempted to protect LGBT detainees by keeping them in solitary confinement—a harshly punitive measure often used in prisons to discipline disobedient criminal inmates.

Written by sara

October 20, 2010 at 9:27 am

Web Resources: Stories of Immigration Detention and More from Deportation Nation

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Deportation Nation, which produces original reporting on ICE’s Secure Communities program, is collecting stories about people’s experiences in immigration detention. You can listen to stories or share your own at this link. DN also provides a library of statistics and other primary sources about how Secure Communities works.

Meanwhile, DN currently has several stories worth reading about developments in counties’ ability to opt out of Secure Communities. Although there has been some confusion about whether counties can do this, federal officials recently confirmed that it is possible and outlined the process for doing so. Already, California’s San Francisco and Santa Clara counties and Virginia’s Arlington County have voted to do so.

Secure Communities is an ICE initiative to partner with local jails to cross-check arrest data with immigration status, allowing ICE officials to begin deportation proceedings if there is a match. The program has been promoted as a way to identify “truly dangerous people” (those words are from Rep. David Price, D-NC), and ICE hopes to expand it to all of the nation’s county jails by 2013. However, as DN notes,

the vast majority of immigrants deported through Secure Communities committed low-level offenses like trespassing, disorderly conduct and traffic offenses. Others simply face charges and have yet to be convicted.

The Real Immigration Scandal: The Plight of Mentally Ill Immigration Detainees

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If you need proof that the U.S. immigration system is broken, you need look no further than the case of Pedro Guzman, a 29-year-old U.S. citizen with developmental disabilities who was erroneously deported to Mexico in 2007 and lost for three months while his family in California desperately searched for him. Then consider that Guzman’s experience was not an isolated snafu. According to a new Human Rights Watch/ACLU report, about 15% of immigration detainees suffer from a mental illness—which adds up to 57,000 mentally ill detainees in 2008 alone. Immigration law is among the most complicated legal specialties, yet there is no right to appointed counsel in deportation proceedings (which are civil): as a result, every day immigrants are deported who may well have been eligible for some form of relief from deportation, had they had legal representation. But this situation is only exacerbated for the mentally ill, who may not be able to provide ICE officials and Immigration Judges with even the most basic information about their identity.

Yesterday, two ACLU affiliates joined with Public Counsel and the Casa Cornelia Law Center to file a federal lawsuit in the Southern District of California, challenging the U.S. government’s treatment of two mentally ill detainees who were kept in ICE lock-up indefinitely. The two plaintiffs are Jose Antonio Franco Gonzalez, the 29-year-old son of lawful permanent residents, who is mentally retarded and does not know his age, birthday, or how to make phone calls; and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, 48, who has paranoid schizophrenia:

In both cases, an immigration judge found the men incompetent to face proceedings, and their immigration cases ground to a complete halt. But instead of releasing them to the custody of family members or providing them with release hearings, immigration officials insisted on keeping the two men locked up, often in conditions that only exacerbated their already vulnerable mental states.

“These men were completely forgotten in the immigration prison system, their cases neglected for years. In other words, they were punished for having a mental disability,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, director of immigrant rights and national security for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “Nobody tracked their cases, or even knew why they were detained. It’s a nightmare no family should face, but many will unless there’s true detention reform that creates standards to deal with individuals with mental disabilities.”

As the ongoing scuffle over Arizona’s SB 1070 demonstrates, many in this country seem to believe that it’s a scandal that undocumented immigrants live in the United States. Cases like those of Pedro Guzman, Jose Antonio Franco Gonzalez, and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez make clear that the real scandal is how the U.S. immigration enforcement apparatus abuses those in its custody, whatever their legal status.

Written by sara

August 3, 2010 at 7:33 am

The Journalistic Trope of Comparing Jails to Hotels

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Sometimes journalists who cover jails, prisons, immigration detention centers, etc. spice up their ledes by making some imagined comparison to hotel amenities. In fairness, their sources who are also fond of the comparison (see, e.g., this post). Anyway, here’s an example from today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

New menus. Redesigned living areas. Bingo nights. Dance classes. Continental breakfasts. Self-serve beverage bars.

These aren’t features of some swanky new hotel. They are among a host of new amenities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering at two immigration detention facilities in Georgia.

I would really like to see a moratorium on this trope. It’s somewhat offensive and virtually always inaccurate. This article refers to eight private immigration jails run by Corrections Corporation of America that are due to be redesigned. Whatever the new amenities after the renovations, I can pretty much guarantee they will not resemble “swanky new hotels.” Hotels typically aren’t surrounded by concertina wire. And I’ve known some swanky people in my time and they do not typically build their travel itineraries around where they can get bingo and self-serve lemonade.

At most, the redesigned CCA facilities will resemble prisons somewhat less than they do now. This makes some people angry. But note: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

July 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Upcoming Event: Prison-related Panels at ACS 2010

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This weekend, the American Constitution Society will hold its national convention in Washington, D.C. Almost all the panels could bear on prison/jail issues in some way, and certainly on broader concerns of criminal law, procedure, and punishment. That said, if you’re planning to attend and are especially interested in prison/jail issues, watch out for these panels:

Friday, June 18

  • 2010 Census and Redistricting — perhaps the discussion will touch on prison-based gerrymandering?
  • Access to Federal Courts after Iqbal and Twombly
  • Immigration Reform: Congress and the States

Saturday, June 19

  • Detainees and Justice: Military Commissions vs. Trials within the Federal Court System
  • The Federal Role in Improving Indigent Criminal Defense

A Quick Tour of the Nation’s County Jails

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Around the nation, county jails house defendants awaiting trial who’ve been denied bail or who can’t afford to post bond, as well as convicted offenders serving short sentences (typically less than a year) or awaiting transfer to state prison. Some jails also have contracts with the federal government to house detainees awaiting immigration proceedings or trial in federal court, and in some states with overcrowded prisons, the state pays county jails to house inmates (see also here). Under the name “county jail” you have everything from the massive Los Angeles County jail system which is bigger than some states’ prison systems (seven facilities with 19,000 inmates), to rural county lock-ups with just a few cells. Based on 2008 statistics, there are over 700,000 men and women detained in local jails nationwide at any given time (PDF p. 5). But since people are constantly cycling in and out of jails (and some return multiple times), it’s hard to know how many people in total are jailed each year. (One estimate I’ve seen is nine times the daily jail population, which would yield over 6 million people each year based on the 2008 numbers. Even if that’s wildly too high, the number is clearly somewhere in the low millions.)

Around the country, county jails are overcrowded, antiquated, and underfunded. Here’s a snapshot based just on news reports from the past couple days. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by sara

March 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

Spotlight on Executive Detention, Part I: “Broken ICE”

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Although this blog focuses on conditions for people being detained as part of the criminal trial process, or who are serving a criminal sentence, the United States of course detains people for many other reasons. Among those people are the 300,000 men, women, and children in immigration detention, and the hundreds of War on Terror detainees who have been held at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Although these forms of executive detention often raise different legal questions than the criminal justice system, ultimately none of these issues are separable: they are all part of the same national conversation about liberty and security, and in that way they all inform each other.

So, I thought I would take a break from prison/jail news this morning, and highlight two recent articles about executive detention. (I’ll do this in two separate posts, so this is Part I.) First, immigration detention, which raises particularly salient human rights concerns not only because of the conditions of confinement in many of the facilities ICE uses, but also because it catches in its net so many families and even young children. In The Nation, Jacqueline Stevens has this commentary entitled “Broken ICE,” on America’s thoroughly broken system of immigration detention, focusing on one New York facility:

In January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that by February 26 it would be transferring roughly 250 detainees from the privately run Varick Detention Center in Manhattan to the Hudson correctional center in Kearny, New Jersey. About 12,000 people annually, mostly New Yorkers who would be held at the Varick center, will now be distributed to facilities outside the city. ICE claims it is making the transfer to provide “outdoor recreation space and visitation services,” but civil rights advocates paint a darker picture.

“We view this as a lose-lose situation,” says Udi Ofer of the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), which, along with numerous other New York civil rights organizations, is disturbed that ICE is shifting people from one intolerable facility to another and not releasing them. The groups also worry that the move will deprive the Varick inmates of their free legal services.

Written by sara

March 2, 2010 at 7:36 am

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