Naked City

McPrisons on the Border?

According to Carlos Villareal of the Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, a group of like-minded reformers have formed a new group, South Texans Opposing Private Prisons, in an effort to block a U.S. Marshals Service-backed plan to build a 2,800-bed jail near Laredo. The Marshals have bemoaned the lack of space for inmates in the South Texas border region -- many of whom are illegal immigrants awaiting deportation or offenders awaiting transfer to another federal facility. Immigrants, Villareal said, "are the fastest growing population in the federal prison system" and, next to low-level drug offenders, represent the nation's "next big class of nonviolent" prisoners. The project is being sold to the public as a "great opportunity for economic development," said Villareal, a notion that STOPP members say is frightening.

The members of STOPP -- including the Texas Civil Rights Project and the ACLU's Jail and Prison Accountability Project -- are not only opposed to building more jails to house nonviolent first-time offenders, Villareal said, but are also opposed to this project because it will likely be run by a private vendor. So far, there are nine proposals to build the facility, eight of them from private vendors -- including incarceration-for-profit giants Wackenhut and Corrections Corporation of America. The private prison industry has been plagued by problems -- including riots at various facilities and numerous cases of sexual assaults of inmates by guards -- and yet is well insulated from public scrutiny (see "Beaten by Wackenhut," July 5, 2002).

Villareal said that two public hearings have been held near Laredo, and that federal officials are currently reviewing the various proposals. Still, he said, there is a dearth of specific information about the project, and of official documentation evidencing the need for the new facility. "It's moving ahead," he said, "and the only question seems to be when they're going to do it, not if it's going to happen." A spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service for Texas southern district could not be reached for comment.

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South Texans Opposing Private Prisons, Texas Civil Rights Project, U.S. Marshals Service, private prisons, Carlos Villareal, Texas Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, ACLU Jail and Prison Accountability Project, Wackenhut, Corrections Corporation of America

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