Grassroots Leadership wants to know what's in the contract between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, the for-profit jailers who run the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, for housing detained immigrants. Even after two Freedom of Information Act filings by the justice advocacy group, ICE has refused to produce it. So GL, which has long battled to shut down T. Don Hutto, filed suit in federal district court Sept. 9 to force its release. "At this point, we have no way of knowing whether there is even a written contract for the operation of this detention center," said GL's Bethany Carson.
When ICE contracts with a private prison, it typically does so through a third-party government entity, which for T. Don Hutto has been Williamson County for the last decade. Toward the end of that run, largely as a result of GL's efforts, the Wilco Commissioners Court's feet grew cold as it heard the many allegations of abuse at T. Don Hutto, along with the term "civil liability." In August 2018, they chose to stop doing business with CoreCivic; the contract expired in January. Around that same time, ICE announced a "short-term contract extension" with CoreCivic; nine months later, operations at the center grind on.
T. Don Hutto is the only immigrant detention facility in the nation reserved solely for women; at present, over 500 are detained there. As the Chronicle has reported, it was the scene of much heartbreak in the summer of 2018 when guards began separating children from their mothers. There have been persistent allegations of medical neglect of detainees, and it's earned notoriety for reports of sexual abuse; Laura Monterrosa attempted suicide in January of 2018 after complaining of such abuse at the hands of a guard. GL was integral in getting her released two months later. An FBI investigation has seemingly gone nowhere.
At its Sept. 10 press conference, GL asked, "Why is T. Don Hutto still open?" But at the very moment Williamson County voted to end its relationship, CoreCivic's CEO Damon Hininger was celebrating his prisons' increased profitability. He told investors it was "the most robust kind of sales environment we've seen in probably 10 years."
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