Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Detention of children at CCA facility is focus of Least of These documentary and World Refugee Day protest; company initially said no to keeping kids

Movie and protest bring Hutto to forefront this month

CCA: "We are not in the business of making moral decisions on U.S. public policy"

"We said no initially"

There's a new movie out - and also a protest later this month - about the federal government's detention of children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center ("Hutto"), which is operated by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America ("CCA").

The movie is called The Least of These and will be screened at the Capitol in Washington D.C. tomorrow. [Update 6/10/2009: The Least of These can be previewed on YouTube, viewed in full for free at SnagFilms, and is also available on DVD. Details at www.theleastofthese-film.com]

The protest is scheduled for June 20, the third consecutive World Refugee Day on which a protest will be held at Hutto.

Overview of child detention controversy and Hutto facility

The complaints against Hutto center around these two issues: (1) whether the federal government (and its contractors like CCA) should be detaining children at all, and (2) if so, under what conditions should children be detained.

In regard to the first issue - whether children should be detained at all - everyone agrees on one point: families should not be separated. The question is how to keep track of them once a parent has been apprehended by immigration authorities. The federal government argues that keeping track of families requires detention of parents along with their children. Opponents argue that families can be successfully monitored through methods other than detention.

In regard to the second issue - if children are to be detained, under what conditions - was the subject of a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU in 2006, which resulted in a settlement. After the judge ruled that ACLU was highly likely to succeed, the federal government agreed to specific changes, and the Hutto facility was subjected to monitoring by a court magistrate through 2009. No violations of that settlement have been reported.

Opponents of child detention in general have targeted at least three entities:
  • the federal government;
  • Williamson County, Texas, where Hutto is located; and
  • Corrections Corporation of America, based in Nashville, which operates Hutto.
The decision about whether to detain children, or participate in their detention, is made by all three: Uncle Sam, Williamson County commissioners and their constituents, and CCA and its constituents.

Because of CCA's role, it is one of the targets of the anti-Hutto protests. Prior to Hutto, however, CCA was seen as friendly to Hispanics and Latin Americans, who make up the majority of those held at Hutto. The company...Because of Hutto, however, LULAC is returning the CCA donations it has received.

Comments by Louise Grant of CCA

The Hispanic Nashville Notebook asked CCA how the company views the detention of children and families, or allegations of overincarceration - and whether the board or the company wrestles with the moral issues raised by opponents, or whether there is a limit to the kind of policies the company is willing to help implement. Here is the response of CCA VP of Marketing and Communications Louise Grant:
Our government customers don't ask us our opinions on the moral implications. ... They make public policy decisions. ... Once those decisions have been made, they decide "Is the public government sector going to manage these individuals, or is the private sector?" ... We are not in the business of making moral decisions on U.S. public policy. ... Where we can have an influence is in our own facilities.
When describing the moment when ICE approached CCA to turn Hutto into a family facility, Grant said that CCA initially turned the government down:
Grant: Specifically in regard to Hutto, I can say our customer - Immigration and Customs Enforcement, again, they have been our customer for 25 years, they trust us - they came to us and asked us to operate a family detention center. We said no initially.

Hispanic Nashville Notebook: Why was that?

Grant: We said we have not had that expertise before - you know, we've managed adults. We've had a few juvenile facilities, but we have not managed a family detention center. Obviously, there was only one at the time in the country, in Pennsylvania, and we said no. And ICE came back to us and said, we've made the public policy decision that we are going to do this, and we want to partner who we trust; you've been a good partner for 25 years; we know you have high standards, you have integrity and strong ethics, and we would like you to do this. And we knew it was going to be an evolutionary process, because it was new for ICE and it was new for us, but we said OK we will do this. And we knew that there would be scrutiny. There was obviously the concern about safety and security to say, how can we ensure the absolute safest, most humane environment for these individuals. And our staff, who already goes through very rigorous training, went through a great deal more specialized training, and all of our counselors. And it has been an evolutionary process.

I've been to that facility several times. The warden Evelyn Hernandez is a wonderful woman from Puerto Rico who has the greatest sensitivity, and her staff has the greatest sensitivity to the mothers and the children and the fathers. We do believe that keeping those children with their families is something we're proud of. Again, we've worked extremely hard not to get involved in the public policy decisions...

Hutto Timeline

July 2005
CCA issues press release announcing Hutto closure

December 2005
CCA announces agreement with ICE that will keep Hutto open

May 2006
Hutto re-opens as facility for families, including children; Tennessean reports that federal immigration policy of family detention helps company's bottom line

December 2006
Protest against housing children at Hutto
BBCmundo.com covers Hutto controversy

January 2007
Texas Civil Rights Project says Hutto children not getting schooling required by Texas state law
ICE releases residential standards, mentions Hutto

February 2007
First media tour of Hutto
Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children issues a report condemning certain conditions at Hutto

February 2007 photos of Hutto
March 2007
CCA makes statement to Congress about how good Hutto is
Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children makes statement to Congress about its concerns

April 2007
ICE describes good conditions at Hutto
Federal judge rules that ACLU is "highly likely to prevail" in its litigation alleging that ICE has abused its discretion because conditions of child detention at Hutto are not in compliance with federal law
Alibi.com interview with ACLU-TX legal director (H/T Aunt B)

May 2007
U.N. inspector Jorge Bustamante is turned away from scheduled inspection at Hutto
U.S. says Bustamante turned away because of pending litigation with ACLU
Bustamante issues statement
Bustamante's full report
Salon.com writes Hutto story called "Kiddie prisons"

June 2007
Houston Chronicle blog says Hutto will never be appropriate place for children
Amnesty International urges DHS not to detain children in advance of World Refugee Day rally at Hutto

August 2007
ICE settles with ACLU over conditions at Hutto
Text of the settlement agreement
CCA says that reforms were not the result of litigation - development process "still ongoing"

October 2007
Williamson County TX officials start planning termination of Hutto contract with CCA due to liability concerns

December 2007
Movie release: T. Don Hutto: America's Family Prison
Another Hutto protest

March 2008
New Yorker story: "Lost Children"
U.S. responds to U.N. report on Hutto:
ACLU says conditions at Hutto are "greatly improved"

April 2008
ICE says Hutto is a model; ACLU wants no more children in prison

June 2008
World Refugee Day vigil at Hutto ("to protest the use of Hutto, a former prison, to detain migrants and asylum seekers, including families with children")

Nashville Scene cover story
on CCA and Hutto ("Locked and Loaded")

July 2008
Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman rules CCA is subject to TN open records law

August 2008
CCA launches "CCA360" PR site (with a section on children at Hutto)
Matt Pulle at Nashville Scene blogs about CCA360; CCA VP of Marketing and Communications Louise Grant responds in comments and also publishes a reply post on CCA360

December 2008
Williamson County, TX votes 4-1 to renew Hutto contract
Dissenting Commissioner Birkman: "It's still a prison"
Commissioner Covey: "I haven't seen any of the things you [opponents] are talking about that endanger a child's life, because if there was, I'd be out of it"

January 2009
Austin Chronicle: "Lipstick on a Doberman"

February 2009
American Prospect: The Big Business of Family Detention
ImpactNews.com says no violations of the settlement agreement have been reported; runs down Williamson County's role

March 2009
The Economist blogs Hutto and Least of These documentary (H/T T. Don Hutto blog)
AP story on Least of These documentary
Austinist interview with Least of These Directors/Producers ("We chose not to interview CCA officials because we chose to focus the film narrowly on the issue of family detention and not on the failings of CCA...")

April 2009
Bill against family detention introduced in Texas legislature, names CCA
Houston's El Dia coverage on Hutto (H/T T. Don Hutto blog)
Business of Detention gets Webby nod (H/T T. Don Hutto blog)
Father John Rausch of Stanton, KY speaks out against child detention (H/T T. Don Hutto blog)

May 2009
Maryland immigration attorney on Least of These (condemning U.S. but not CCA)

June 2009
CCA donates to LULAC - which has had favorable opinions of CCA in the past - but LULAC is returning CCA donations now because of Hutto
June 20 vigil at Hutto for World Refugee Day

Thanks to Louise Grant of CCA for the interview.


  1. EXCELLENT summary, CCA interview & timeline!!

    People interested in seeing "The Least of These" can actually watch it for free on-line at SnagFilms. (It's also available for purchase as a home DVD or educational DVD.)

    To watch the film for free:

    (John, you can host the full film on your website if you'd like to.)

    Additional details on www.theleastofthese-film.com

    Thanks to everyone who is bringing attention to the problems at Hutto -- the new administration is at least LISTENING this time around.

    Marcy (one of the film's producers)

  2. I thought the original New Yorker story was terrific, but this documentary looks it will match its reporting and power.

    Looking forward to seeing and and nice work on the preview too.

  3. CCA provided a bullsh*t response.

    CCA makes moral decisions through its acceptance of contracts to imprison immigrant children who have committed no crimes -- and it did so in an oppressive prison environment until the ACLU filed suit against the feds, which led to vast improvements at Hutto.

    CCA could always say "no" to imprisoning children and families at Hutto; yes, that would mean another company or the government would run the facility, but CCA would be taking a moral stand. The fact that they bid for and won the Hutto contract, and profit from it as a result, makes a statement, too -- and not a moral one.

    Equally, during the 1940's, if the German government was contracting out concentration camps and didn't ask companies to make moral decisions -- only to take the contracts and enforce government public policy decisions -- CCA could have said the same thing.

    Using Louise Grant's logic, it would have been perfectly acceptable for CCA to run Auschwitz. No moral judgments there, right?

    - Alex F.


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