Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tuesday morning, Williamson County, TX residents will plea for shutdown of CCA-operated family and child detention facility

T. Don Hutto Center has survived two previous contract challenges

More of interview with CCA's Louise Grant

The T. Don Hutto blog reports here that the Williamson County, TX County Commissioners Court will meet at 9:15 a.m. this morning, and that residents will call for the termination of the County's contract allowing Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America to operate the T. Don Hutto family and child detention facility. See this story and its timeline for more information about the facility.

Residents have asked the County to terminate the CCA contract at least twice before, in part on the argument that the County is exposed to liability for what happens at Hutto, where the federal immigration agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") contracts with CCA to provide detention-related services. From the T. Don Hutto blog:
First, ICE's Family Residential Standards are based on policies used at adult prisons, making them an inappropriate model for the care of families. Second, these standards are not enforceable. That means that CCA and Williamson County can fall out of compliance with little legal recourse by families detained there. While this may be legally convenient for the contractors, it does not release them from the responsibility for the care and welfare of families at Hutto.
The Hutto facility has been under federal judicial supervision since federal litigation in 2007 led to a settlement between the ACLU and ICE, but that supervision will end in August. The conditions mandated by the settlement were summarized by the ACLU at the time:
Additional improvements ICE will be required to make as a result of the settlement include allowing children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility; providing a full-time, on-site pediatrician; eliminating the count system so that families are not forced to stay in their cells 12 hours a day; installing privacy curtains around toilets; offering field trip opportunities to children; supplying more toys and age-and language-appropriate books; and improving the nutritional value of food. ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants' rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE's compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence.
When the liability issue arose in October 2007, CCA issued this statement, and a CCA attorney made the case to the County Commissioners that they were not only immune from liability but immune from suit (see video above).

One of the commissioners states in the video that ICE had indicated to the County at one time that "there is a monitoring system not working and you should have had it fixed," which was contrary to the commissioner's understanding that such a problem would be CCA's responsibility.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court has twice voted to continue the contract when asked to terminate it.

In an interview with HispanicNashville.com, CCA VP of Marketing and Communications Louise Grant praised the facility and the staff, noting that the children have written nice letters and that the staff has commented on the conditions at the facility being better than the conditions which some of the families have just left:
I know when I've been to that facility, and I have seen - I've walked in the classrooms, and there are murals painted on the wall of Disney characters, there are books in Spanish, and we have our Hispanic teachers, and the children - and I've seen, I have in my desk in drawers, I have letters that the children have written to the teachers, to the counselors, to the detention officers, saying things like, "Thank you for making me smile; you made me feel safe."

I know that having talked to our staff there, some of them even realize that, especially for those who were just brought over the border, who just came over the border, and now are detained at that facility, as opposed to any who have been in the country for a while, we've said they're getting more education, more recreation, healthier food, than they've probably had in their lifetime. And we do know that they are going to go back to their country of origin and you wonder what is the condition they will go back to, because we know how safe they are right now, in our facility. We know what opportunities they have for education, for recreation, high caloric content, and their ability to be with not only their family, but others, so that it truly is a community.

So while we're not debating public policy, we can say that as a company, we are extremely proud of the level of integrity in how we've managed that contract, and the quality of our staff, who every single day are coming in, and they are working diligently to ensure that those families are safe, that they are well treated, and they're getting medical care there that probably exceeds anything they've ever had in their lifetime.
At the time of the 2007 settlement, the ACLU stated that all of the 26 children represented by the ACLU and co-counsel had been released from Hutto. Six of the children were released days before the settlement was finalized, and were living with U.S. citizen and/or legal permanent resident family members while pursuing their asylum claims.

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