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article imageThousands of inmates to be transferred after riot in Texas prison

By Megan Hamilton     Feb 25, 2015 in Crime
Raymondville - Efforts are being made to relocate thousands of inmates at a federal prison in south Texas after an uprising by angry prisoners left the prison seriously damaged and uninhabitable, reports say.
The trouble started early Friday at the Willacy County Correctional Center in Texas, where most of the prisoners are illegal aliens. The prison is run by the private company Management and Training corp, (MTC) and is located about 40 miles from the Mexican border, The Guardian reports.
When the unrest began, prisoners had refused to come to breakfast or to report for work in an effort to protest problems with medical services at the prison. They also broke out of their housing structures and set fire to several tents that served as prison housing.
The disturbance was largely quelled by Saturday evening, The Guardian reports, however the prison suffered significant damage and required the transfer of up to 2,800 inmates, the US Bureau of Prisons (BOP) said in a statement. Transferring the inmates is expected to continue into next week, the bureau said.
"The facility 'is now uninhabitable due to damage caused by the inmate population,'" the bureau added.
The Willacy County Correctional Center is beset by controversy, The Guardian notes in this article. It is one of 13 criminal alien requirement (CAR) prisons in the US that mainly incarcerates immigrants who have been convicted of unlawful entry into the country. About 2,800 inmates are housed in large Kevlar domes.
When the riots began on Friday, inmates set fire to a number of the domes after protesting against poor medical conditions in the jail and calling for transfers, but their demands were subsequently suppressed with teargas. Two staff members and three inmates received minor injuries, prison managers said.
A BOP spokesman told The Guardian that the inmates were "now compliant" but staff employed by MTC were "continuing to communicate with the inmate population in an effort to regain complete control of the facility."
The prison was now described by the BOP as "uninhabitable," and a spokesman for MTC said that the plumbing, heating and cooling systems were damaged during the unrest.
The agencies say they plan to transfer the prisoners out of the center, but when The Guardian asked repeatedly which locations the inmates would be sent to, a BOP spokesman would only say that they will be sent to "other BOP or contract institutions." An MTC spokesman said the transfer locations won't be revealed "for safety reasons."
Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that the CAR network of prisons is already over capacity, with some 25,000 beds.
"It's hard to know where everybody is going to be transferred, because 2,800 people is a lot of people to move around in the prison system – even one like the bureau of prisons has more than 200,000 beds across the system," he said.
In 2014, Takei visited Willacy to interview inmates for an ACLU report that found system-wide issues regarding poor medical provision and the overuse of solitary confinement in the prison.
"What people communicated to me during the interviews was a sense of near universal despair," he said.
"They described living in overcrowded Kevlar tents, with 200 bunks packed only a few feet apart from each other. They described insects that crawled through the walls of the tent and bit them at night. They described the toilets that constantly overflowed and how the stench of sewage permeated the tents each time these toilets overflowed."
"They also described being locked in isolation cells not because they had done anything wrong, but because there weren't enough beds available in the overcrowded tents."
Abuse of prisoners in privatized prisons is well-documented in Texas. Especially in Willacy County, where the correctional center in question is located.
In 2008, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales were indicted by a Texas grand jury on state charges that accused them of being responsible for prisoner abuse in a privately run federal jail, Democracy Now reports. The indictment was merely a slap on the wrist — Cheney and Gonzales weren't required to appear in person and weren't arrested.
Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney
Flickr Creative Commons
One of the indictments charged Cheney and Gonzales with engaging in organized criminal activity and alleges that the two men neglected federal prisoners and are also responsible for abuses in the privately run prisons in Willacy County, which is in South Texas.
Cheney sank millions of dollars into the Vanguard Group, an investment management company with interests entangled in the prison companies associated with detention centers. The profiteering scheme resulted in prisoners being assaulted, and in at least one case, murdered, Brenda Norell writes in The Narcosphere.
As Norell noted, the grand jury indicted Cheney and accused him of misdemeanor assaults on inmates by allowing prisoners to assault other prisoners. Gonzales was charged with using his position to prevent investigations into assaults committed in a for-profit prison in Willacy County. This is in regards to the murder of Gregorio de la Rosa, who was beaten to death with padlocks that were stuffed in socks. A jury ordered the GEO Group, the company that was implicated in the murder to pay de la Rosa's family $47.5 million in a civil judgement in 2006, and the indictments of Cheney and Gonzales refer to this case.
All of this is a mere matter of routine in a country that now has the largest prisoner population of any developed country in the world, Think Progress notes. As of December 31 2013, over 1. 57 million inmates were incarcerated in federal, state, and county prisons and jails across the country.
When it comes to federal prisons, over half of those sentenced to a year or more were still there for drug related offenses at the time when Think Progress published the article. In states like Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, Arizona, and Georgia at least one percent of male residents were in prison as of Dec. 31. As has been noted before, racial disparities are grave. Black men are six times likelier than white men to be in prison, while Hispanic men are 2.4 times likelier, Think Progress notes. And that's not even the whole picture. Some have estimated that the total number of people incarcerated in the U.S. actually stands at more than 2.4 million, and that's because an estimated 12 million people flow like an endless river through county jail systems in any given year for terms that last less than a year, and these individuals aren't factored into the Dec. 31 estimates.
Under such conditions, uprisings like the one that occurred at the Willacy county correctional center are par for the course. Takei told The Guardian that the unrest was a "predictable consequence of the bureau of prisons turning a blind eye to what happens inside its private prisons."
Takei described the unrest as a “predictable consequence of the bureau of prisons turning a blind eye to what happens inside its private prisons."
MTC says the transfers will be ongoing throughout the week and that prisoners still at the Willacy center were given warm clothes and extra blankets and are still sleeping in their housing units, the spokesman said. "We're also providing them with food and any needed medications as well."
In a 2014 report, the ACLU profiled the lack of oversight, transparency, and accountability from the BOP, Takei told Democracy Now.
"These are companies where their goal is to use the housing of — the incarceration of human beings and our tax dollars, and convert that into maximum profits. And that creates a situation rife with abuse, neglect and misconduct."
He cited one example regarding another CAR prison in Texas, where the BOP sent in it's own monitors and found that the company wasn't even meeting its own corrective action plans.
"And they concluded that the lack of health care at the prison was contributing to significant suffering among the prisoners who were incarcerated there," Takei told Democracy Now. "Even after making those conclusions, though, the Bureau of Prisons chose to renew its contract with the company. When they asked to justify this to other Department of Justice officials, Bureau of Prisons officials said that they did this in order to preserve their credibility as a good customer for the private prison companies."
Masses of people are swallowed up in the for-profit monster that far too many prisons have become, while Cheney and Gonzales, two key players in this system of horrors, go to bed each night with the knowledge that they will always be free.
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