Friday, September 4, 2009

Letter to Tennessean: "national attention" surrounding child and family detention at CCA's Hutto lacked your local angle

This week, the Tennessean mentioned in passing the national controversy surrounding the detention by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America of children and families at the T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas. The thrust of the story was the "upbeat outlook" of the company. A similar Tennessean story mentioning Hutto appeared in 2006 and focused on immigrant detention as a CCA profit opportunity.

In between those two stories in 2006 and 2009, the Tennessean mentioned the Hutto controversy only one other time, in a column about local blogs. The story was covered widely elsewhere.

The relative silence of CCA's hometown paper about the national firestorm of controversy surrounding Hutto, and the fact that the controversy is wrapping up due to the Obama administration's recent decision to stop sending children and families there, prompted me to bring this to the Tennessean's attention.

I sent the following e-mail this morning to the Tennessean's President & Publisher Ellen Leifeld, its Editor and VP Mark Silverman, and the local news desk, with cc's to the reporters I mentioned in the letter - Chris Echegaray, Ryan Underwood, and Getahn Ward:
Dear Tennessean:

I know you can't cover everything, and that you have to make difficult judgments about what is newsworthy for any given day. Without meaning to second-guess your news desk, I want to bring your attention to a national story with local ties that I think you missed. Maybe there is still some reporting to be done there.

Chris Echegaray's September 1 article "Analysts give CCA an upbeat outlook" dedicates a paragraph to Corrections Corporation of America's T. Don Hutto facility in Taylor, Texas, which Mr. Echegaray described as having "garnered national attention after reports of questionable treatment of immigrant families."

The national attention Echegaray mentions began in 2006, when CCA agreed to a federal proposal to detain children and families at the Hutto facility. Initial reports about the conditions of the facility garnered headlines at the New Yorker and front-page treatment at the New York Times. The story has also been the subject of multiple documentaries and protests, Congressional hearings, a landmark settlement between the ACLU and the federal government, and reports by the United Nations and Amnesty International. On August 6, 2009, the Obama administration announced that it would discontinue the child and family detention at Hutto.

Despite the national attention on this CCA facility since 2006, the Tennessean - the hometown newspaper of Nashville-based CCA - did not put any resources behind this story during its three-year history. Mr. Echegaray's recent paragraph was only the second brief mention in your pages. The first and only other allusion to the controversy surrounding the facility was the May 5, 2008 edition of Ryan Underwood's column about local blogs, which pointed to my reference to the New Yorker story on To date, the only interview conducted by the Tennessean about the Hutto facility's 2006 repurposing appeared in a pre-controversy May 21, 2006 Getahn Ward story describing the family detention as a profit opportunity for CCA.

If you are interested in more background about this story, I direct you to a Hutto news timeline I created here.

If there is any reporting left to be done about the family and child detention at Hutto, especially if that reporting is of the kind that only CCA's hometown paper can do, I would look forward to reading it.

Best regards,

John Lamb
Nashville, TN
Readers may remember these stories about Hutto on

Photo by Neal Sanche. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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