The Texas Department of Famliy and Protective Services (DFPS) has exempted the Corrections Corporation of America from regulations pertaining to children inside the The T. Don Hutto prison for immigrant families in Taylor, Texas. In the following analysis, Sarah Boone looks at public records of the decision as shared in pdf format by San Antonio Current reporter Dave Maass.–gm
OVERVIEW OF HUTTO/TDFPS INTERACTION
By Sarah Boone
Thanks to two pdf files shared by San Antonio Current reporter Dave Maass [pdf1, pdf2] we have records of the following written exchanges between the T Don Hutto Family Residential Center Management of Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), The Williamson County Judge, and Texas Department of Family Protective Services (TDFPS) regarding whether or not Hutto should be exempt from TDFPS licensing:
- 4/17/2006 Letter to Williamson County Judge, with materials from handbook given to detainees and an outline of proposed changes to better accommodate detainees.
- 5/22/2006 Letter to TDFPS requesting exemption, including copy of contract between Williamson County and CCA, modified on 5/1/2006.
- 6/14/2006 Letter from TDFPS stating that Hutto did not fall under that agency’s licensing for day care facilities.
- 3/28/2007 Follow up letter from Hutto stating that changes had been made and again requesting exemption.
- 4/13/2007 Letter from TDFPS stating that Hutto still was exempt from TDFPS supervision.
In the 4/17/2006 letter, CCA management outlined the programs they were providing for ‘residents.’ In more than ten pages of information, the majority of which came from the ‘handbook’ that is given to detainees prior to their arrival at Hutto, I found numerous statements that contradict information gleaned through detainee’s conversations with their attorneys during and after incarceration.
1. Detainees will not need any money while at Hutto.
2. Phone calls should be limited to 15 minutes or less.
Detainees state that they must purchase a CCA telephone calling card for $20 in order to make calls.
3. Library materials appropriate for native languages, to
the greatest possible extent will be available.
This also has been repudiated by detainees, since ‘which’ nationalities, languages and
dialects are subject to constant change.
4. CCA envisions a tremendous array of indoor and outdoor activities
for juveniles and adults, including informal intramural competitions,
etc., incorporating the traditions of their countries.
A blatant lie. A map of the facility was in the packet. It showed no recreation room or designation of outdoor play or recreation area.
5. Information regarding free legal services is provided to all families.
Again, repudiated by detainees.
6. CCA is examining potential software-based-aids …..to assist
children with language and academic skills.
These aids were not available for nearly one year.
7. CCA will furnish living skills instructions to both adults and
Repudiated by detainees.
8. Volunteer Services – TDHRC will reach out to area volunteers
to facilitate religious, recovery and cultural programs.
If no ‘outsiders’ are allowed ‘inside,’ how was this possible?
9. CCA’s experience has prepared it to interface with practitioners
of diverse faiths and traditions.
If this is true, why did Guards refuse to allow daily prayers by Muslims?
10. Programs: CCA will provide a broad array of programs due to
its familiarity with the needs of migrants and immigrants including
experience in operation of extensively programmed facilities.
CCA’s familiarity is with PRISONS, (that’s what an extensively programmed
facility is.) The ‘residents’ at Hutto are not convicted felons.
11. Hutto stated it intended to provide education for all children age 5
and over ‘who intend to enroll in school.’ English as a second-language
will be taught to all, along with arts, science, social studies and math.
Initially the ‘school day’ was supposedly 4.5 hours, during which time 11-year-olds
who spoke English fluently and whose entire education had been in the US schools,
were being taught one plus one equals two.
12. Adults were to be taught English in a format that was not dependent on
bilingual familiarity or instructor’s familiarity with the detainees’
This did not occur.
13. The proposed changes included changes that should have been made prior
to housing children and women at Hutto:
- Changing the facility from a ‘secure’ to ‘non-secure’ facility
- Providing stuffed toys and craft items for children
- Screening shower areas and having covers for cell doors
- Playground equipment
- Removal of razor wire
- Safety items, such as ladders, to access top bunks
- Additional portable classroom space
- Attorney-Client and family visits in accordance with pp 32 & 33 and Exhibit 1 of the Flores v. Reno settlement
We know that many of the above (along with other proposed changes) were not carried out until just prior to the ACLU/press tour in February, 2007.
14. A major proposed change was to provide palatable and nutritious meals,
age specific to children’s needs. A dining room was to be provided for
meals and special dietary needs by children and adults were to be addressed.
There is proof that many children were still loosing weight as late as February, 2007 and a personal conversation with a prior detainee revealed that there had been no real improvement in the meals since this letter was written.
15. The staff was to be trained in all applicable aspects of detainees’ rights under Flores vs. Reno as well as the rights and responsibilities of juveniles and understanding of children/youth lifestyle and culture.. Additionally, the staff was instructed that the parents were to be the primary disciplinarians and staff intervention was allowed unless ICE was first contacted – – unless ICE could not be reached. Only minimum force was to be used against children.
Children were being punished in the same manner as prisoners, by lowering of cell (room) temperature and threatened or real separation from their mothers. Additionally, the staff was instructed that the parents were to be the primary disciplinarians and staff intervention was allowed unless ICE was first contacted – – unless ICE could not be reached. Only minimum force was to be used against children. Note: we finally now see employees in ‘friendly’ polo shirts and khakis rather than ‘police’ uniforms.
16. The government is to provide juvenile case workers.
How is it possible for CCA to promise child case workers on one hand and to secure exemption from DFPS regulations on the other?
17. All employees will undergo the same background investigation as all other CCA
Are there any additional safeguards for the children, i.e., no history of family violence?
18. ICE and the provider understand that due to the ‘urgency’ of making these changes that there was no time for research to see if Hutto is subject to regulation by any
al, state, or federal agency.
This should have been determined before the lease was ever signed with CCA.
19. The ‘revised’ contract with Williamson County shows a MONTHLY payment
Of $2,801,643 for up to 512 detainees, or $5471.96 (if at full capacity) plus
A per diem of an additional $79 per person if there are more than 512.
ICE is paying $124,732 for medical expenses for up to 512, and $8.01 per
Day for each detainee in excess of 512. Yet, prenatal care has been minimal; mothers-to-be report that they are handcuffed and blindfolded for trips to the Round Rock hospital and then are cuffed to the examining table while there.
20. On an “Exemption Determination” Form submitted to TDFPS, it was stated that school Hours were to be from 8:30-11:30 and 2 – 4:30, with instruction for Pre-K through grade 12. The staff is to escort the children from their room (cell) to the classrooms. While in the classrooms the CCA Staff, including officers, teacher’s aids, coordinators and program facilitators will supervise the children.
How many children are in a class? Are the children grouped by age, nationality, or what/how? What consideration is given to their knowledge of English – – has CCA taken into
account that many have been in the US long enough to be fluent in English?
21. NOTE: we are now told that the school day is 7 hours in compliance with State of Texas regulations.
Why was it not set at 7 hours initially and how/why could TDFPS ‘approve’
a shorter school day for these children under the ‘no child left behind’ regulations
as well as under State of Texas regulations?
22. On June 14, 2006, TDFPS ‘approved’ the plan basically due to a parent always being present at the facility. On March 28, 2007, Hutto again asked for exemption based on the changes that they had made in the past year that include:
- Admitting that some families are detained for more than 90 days
- The school day has been increased to 7 hours, with 5 core subjects and
two enrichment subjects (not described)
- The Pre-K program has been eliminated and children under age 5 remain
with their moms during the day
- The only time children under age 4 are separated from their parents is
in a medical emergency or when the parent must meet with an attorney
- Children now eat lunch with their peers, however following lunch, parents are
allowed into the cafeteria to visit with their children.
It is appalling that the TDFPS cannot/will not/has not stepped in to demand that it be allowed to have at least one full-time employee ‘on-site’ to protect the rights of these children. Obviously the hundreds of thousands of dollars with which CCA and the other for-profit prisons have lined our office-holders’ pockets have bought silence.
SHAME ON THE STATE OF TEXAS!
Appendix: Texas Gives Chidren to CCA
In a letter dated April 13, a representative from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) waives regulation of children held by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).