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A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.
A UMNS photo by Paul Jeffrey.

Just a few weeks ago, Static was lamenting that Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison outfit in the U.S., probably would get the contract to run a new 2,400-bed family immigration detention center to be built in the South Texas town of Dilley. CCA has a horrific track record of abusing prisoners under its care all over the country.

Well, GEO Group, the largest private prison corporation in the world, wasn’t to be outdone. The company recently began operating the Karnes Family Residential Center, a 537-bed facility also located in South Texas, a couple of counties away from CCA’s facility, holding women and children who have entered the U.S. illegally. Less than two months after GEO began its work, it has racked up numerous allegations of abuse by its guards. The allegations include women detainees being kissed, fondled, and groped in front of their children, as well as women being offered money or promises of help with their immigration cases in exchange for sexual favors.

The formerly all-male immigration detention center became a family detention center on Aug.1. According to defense attorneys and several civil rights legal groups, the initial reports of abuse were made in early September to facility staff but were ignored. Barbara Hines, co-director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, called the abuse “quite pervasive” in a report by the San Antonio Express-News in early October.

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GEO Group denies the allegations. But given GEO’s track record of terrible abuses by its guards on inmates all over the United States, from sexually abusing teens, to denying mental healthcare services at a facility housing special-needs inmates, to underfeeding inmate populations at some of their prisons, to rape — well, Static isn’t betting against those alleging abuse here.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has ultimate responsibility for the detainees, has a zero-tolerance policy on prisoner abuse. The agency is looking into the allegations.

The Karnes facility is one of only three family detention centers operating in the U.S. Both Karnes and a family center in Artesia, N.M. were opened to handle the massive number of women and children caught entering the U.S. during the spring and early summer. In 2009 almost all family facilities run by ICE were ordered shut down due to the levels of sexual abuse that were occurring. The largest was the T. Don Hutto facility in Tyler, run by CCA.

Considering the histories of both CCA and GEO Group, it is appalling that either is still being allowed to run prison facilities. What does that say for this country’s commitment to human rights for all and humane treatment for the powerless among us?

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