June 19, 2010
Trouble in three states draws scrutiny for veteran private jailer
The nation’s largest private jail operator is facing a new public relations fight following multiple high-profile incidents this year in three states – Idaho, Texas and Arizona. The Corrections Corporation of America based in Nashville, Tenn. experienced a meteoric rise during the 1990s when Washington opened its doors to privatization during the Clinton administration and helped set the stage for public-sector outsourcing that is now commonplace in the United States, notably at the still-young Department of Homeland Security.
Officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement revealed in late May that a guard at the company’s T. Don Hutto Residential Center located 35 miles east of Austin, Texas, sexually assaulted women detainees held there. The federal government has since reportedly directed CCA to institute changes, such as prohibiting male guards from being alone with women in custody, and ICE said it would enhance oversight of the government’s larger detention facilities. A letter to the company from ICE obtained by the Associated Press said the guard’s alleged actions occurred because CCA failed to follow federal guidelines regulating the transport of detainees.
During a past life when CCA helped lead the movement toward privatization, it so anticipated limitless fortunes that the company nearly went bankrupt building more beds than federal, state and local governments wanted to fill. But Washington pumped new life into CCA partly after the Bush administration moved to dramatically scale back the federal government’s “catch-and-release” policy in which suspected immigration violators were freed before being required to appear at a deportation hearing unless they had a criminal record.
Detention facilities ballooned after the change creating significant new demand for CCA’s services and a path for the company back to big earnings. Today CCA is a top five contractor for ICE and earned more than $200 million in revenues from the agency last year alone, according to the jailer’s Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
Executives at CCA also believe that the economic downturn and a perception by public officials that outsourcing is a solution for money woes will make it more competitive on Wall Street.
The company’s latest successes, however, are occurring alongside allegations of misconduct among guards and other episodes that have attracted the attention of critics.
The Hutto facility in Texas is named after one of CCA’s founders and houses not just individuals accused of entering the country illegally but also asylum seekers, the investigative journalism outfit Texas Tribune noted earlier this month. According to the most recent accusations against Hutto, women were allegedly molested while being patted down by a guard and one was propositioned for sex.
The ACLU of Texas called the revelations part of a pattern at immigrant detention facilities in the Lone Star State. A guard in Los Fresnos, Texas, was sentenced to prison time in April for the repeated sexual abuse of detainees. The man admitted that he “snuck into medical isolation rooms at the detention center infirmary to grope female patients. He frequently volunteered for infirmary duty so that he would be alone with the victims, and his victims were usually asleep when he entered the room,” the Justice Department says...
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