1301089 tn?1290666571

ICE establishes "country club" for detainees


ICE and the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America have agreed to make more than 24 changes at nine facilities. The changes include:

• Relaxing security: Low-risk detainees will have “freedom of movement” in the facilities and will no longer be subject to lock downs or lights out.

• Access: Detainees will be able to have visitors stay as long as they like within a 12-hour window. The facilities will increase attorney visitation space, add un-monitored phone lines and give detainees email and free, Internet-based calling. A unit manager will be available to take complaints directly from detainees.

• Daily life: Detainees will be allowed to wear regular clothing, will have at least four hours of recreation daily, and will be offered cooking, art and dance classes.

Source: ICE e-mail dated May 27

Nine locations, including Houston, will implement the changes.

• Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, New Jersey

• Eloy Detention Center, Arizona

• Florence Service Processing Center, Arizona

• Houston Contract Detention Center, Texas

• Laredo Contract Detention Facility, Texas

• North Georgia Detention Center, Georgia

• Otay Detention Center, California

• Stewart Detention Center, Georgia

• T. Don Hutto Detention Center, Texas

Source: ICE

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are preparing to roll out a series of changes at several privately owned immigration detention centers, including relaxing some security measures for low-risk detainees and offering art classes, bingo and continental breakfast on the weekends.

The changes, detailed in an internal ICE e-mail obtained by the Houston Chronicle, were welcomed by immigrant advocates who have been waiting for the Obama administration to deliver on a promise made in August to overhaul the nation's immigration detention system.

The 28 changes identified in the e-mail range from the superficial to the substantive. In addition to “softening the look of the facility” with hanging plants and offering fresh carrot sticks, ICE will allow for the “free movement” of low-risk detainees, expand visiting hours and provide unmonitored phone lines.

ICE officials said the changes are part of broader efforts to make the immigration detention system less penal and more humane.

But the plans are prompting protests by ICE's union leaders, who say they will jeopardize the safety of agents, guards and detainees and increase the bottom line for taxpayers. Tre Rebstock, president for Local 3332, the ICE union in Houston, likened the changes to creating “an all-inclusive resort” for immigration detainees.

“Our biggest concern is that someone is going to get hurt,” he said, taking particular issue with plans to relax restrictions on the movement of low-risk detainees and efforts to reduce and eliminate pat-down searches.

The changes outlined in the ICE e-mail are planned for nine detention centers owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America, including the 900-bed Houston Contract Detention Facility on the city's north side.

Some of the changes will be implemented within 30 days; others may take up to six months, said Beth Gibson, ICE's senior counselor to Assistant Secretary John Morton and a leader of the detention reform effort.

Other major changes include:

•  Eliminating lockdowns and lights-out for low-risk detainees.

•  Allowing visitors to stay as long as they like in a 12-hour period.

•  Providing a unit manger so detainees have someone to report problems to other than the guard.

•  Allowing low-risk detainees to wear their own clothing or other non-penal attire.

•  Providing e-mail access and Internet-based free phone service.
Not about punishment

Gibson said the improvements are part of ICE's efforts to detain immigrants in the least restrictive manner possible while ensuring they leave the country if ordered to do so.

“When people come to our custody, we're detaining them to effect their removal,” Gibson said. “It's about deportation. It's not about punishing people for a crime they committed.”

ICE officials have faced pressure from immigrant advocates and some members of Congress to improve the detention conditions for the roughly 400,000 immigrants it houses annually. The agency has relied on a hodgepodge of more than 250 government-run detention centers, private prisons and local jails to accommodate its growing population — with roughly one in four detainees held in Texas.

At the CCA facilities that have agreed to ICE's changes, detainees will see more variety in their dining hall menus and have self-serve beverage and fresh vegetable bars.

CCA also plans to offer movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring and computer training, the e-mail states.

Detainees also will be allowed four hours or more of recreation “in a natural setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise.”

CCA also committed to improving the look of the facilities, such as requiring plants, fresh paint and new bedding in lower-risk units.
Advocates pleased

Some of the improvements offered at the CCA facilities counted as hard-fought victories for immigrant advocates, including plans to improve visitor and attorney access.

“A lot of these measures are what we've been advocating for,” said Lory Rosenberg, policy and advocacy director for Refugee and Migrants' Rights for Amnesty International.

“Many of these points are very important to changing the system from a penal system, which is inappropriate in an immigration context, to a civil detention system.”

Union members said they have concerns about the plans, primarily focusing on safety.

Rebstocksaid some detainees may be classified as low-risk because they have no serious criminal history but still may be gang members that “haven't been caught doing anything wrong yet.”

He also said eliminating lockdowns will make it more difficult to protect detainees from one another.

He said reducing or eliminating pat-down searches could allow contraband into the facilities, including weapons.

Gibson, with ICE, said the agency is developing a sophisticated classification system and will make sure “that our detainees are still safe and sound.”

“As a general matter, it will be the non-criminals who don't present a danger to anyone else who are benefitting from the lowest level of custody,” Gibson said.
‘On the taxpayers' dime'

Rebstock also questioned the cost to taxpayers for the changes.

“My grandparents would have loved to have bingo night and a dance class at the retirement home they were in when they passed away, but that was something we would have had to pay for,” he said. “And yet these guys are getting it on the taxpayers' dime.”

Gibson said CCA is making the improvements at no additional cost to ICE. The agency's contract with CCA for the Houston detention center requires that ICE pay $99 per bed daily for each detainee, slightly lower than the $102 average daily rate ICE pays nationally .

Rosenberg said some of the changes, like new flower baskets, may seem small, but they will combine with the bigger changes to make a difference in the daily lives of detainees.

“Taken together they will go some way to making this system less penal,” she said.
4 Responses
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1301089 tn?1290666571
Wonderful!!  Now illegals will get the country club treatment. Fabulous.  These detainees are not being held on criminal charges.  They are awaiting deportation while their rightful identity is established.  So basically what we have is a bunch of people we know are here illegally but we don't know who they are.  They could be members of drug cartels, drug smugglers, terrorists and Lord only knows what else.  Unmonitored calls and internet???  Civilian clothing?? How will they tell them apart from the visitors?  If only we could do as much for our poor and homeless.  

Heck, I'd like to live somewhere like that!!!
Helpful - 0
Avatar universal
Just out of curiousity..Who and what do you think should be in prison and what, keeping in mind most people do not have life sentences should wedo with them once they are in the system?  Keep in mind that the majority of people in any of these systems are NON VIOLENT.
Helpful - 0
306455 tn?1288862071
I have been to (as a visitor) and seen how these detention centers are. They are definitely in need of over-hauling. The conditions these detainees have been kept in (for profit) are atrocious! There are children in these places too. These detention centers are not suppose to be prisons. Iam all for very strict Illegal Immigration laws, but I'm not for the inhuman treatment of people. In order for ICE to make their profit they must keep individuals in the detention center for at least (something like) 90 days, even if the detainee is here legally.  I'm surprised the Miami detention center isn't on the over-haul list.
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1301089 tn?1290666571
Do you think I'm saying we should use the dungeon of Chillingham Castle as our model complete with a resurrected John Sage as warden?  NO.

Although these people are not know to have committed a crime during their illicit stay in our country, the point is we don't know who they are.  All their activity should be monitored.  Visitors should be searched for contraband.  And of course they should be afforded recreational activities.  The food should be plentiful and nutritious. But we don't need to open a free Whole Foods Market there.  They should wear clothing to differentiate them from the visitors for easy identification.  Their treatment should be humane but not privileged.  What privilege have they earned???  We must use some common sense.

We have citizens who are living in squalid conditions.  Families losing their homes.  It's estimated that at least two thirds of those who have refinanced under the Obama plan will be foreclosed upon.    We have homeless in every city in every state in the Union.  Do you think maybe they'd like to go there?

We need to stop making it so attractive to come here.  Those who choose to come here illegally must suffer some sort of consequence.  Offering a country club atmosphere at their detention center isn't the way to do this.  The children in these should get humane housing  with their parents and schooling along with medical care.  And I don't think dressing the kiddies in prison garb is a very good idea either.

We are a couple of Presidential pen strokes away from economic collapse.  Allowing luxuries and privileges not even afforded to our armed forces to those who have chosen to enter this country illegally is absurd.  Temper our humanity with a healthy dose of common sense and fiscal responsibility.
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