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See no evil

16 February 2008

“Out of sight, out of mind” seems to be the modus operandi when it comes to locking people up in the United States.  Rural Texas is dotted with “rent-a-prisons” (I regularly pass Hudpeth County — pop. 3,350, 0.7 persons per square mile — which has a very large county jail, privately managed, and housing mostly State of Idaho prisoners) which, while providing a boost for local economies in these isolated communities, are the devil’s own bargain.

The Texas Youth Facility in Pyote (pop. 131) was — and is — the largest employer in town.   For the last year, the Texas Youth Commission has been the center of a huge scandal, “thanks” to the local prosecutor’s failure to investigate sexual abuse of the boys at the center.   This last week, the “acting director” (brought in to try and clean up the scandal) of the TYC was forced to resign.

The TYC scandals involved Texans abusing U.S. citizens.  There is even less oversight of what goes on in immigrant detention facilities.  In Nixon (a relatively large community of 2,300 people near San Antonio):

Nine immigrant children were repeatedly sexually molested and beaten last year while housed in a government-operated youth detention center near San Antonio, and their cries for help were covered up by administrators and state and federal officials, according to a lawsuit filed Friday. Texas Sheltered Care in Nixon was among about three dozen facilities across the country run by private firms under government contract to temporarily house unaccompanied immigrant minors caught trying to cross the border.

This particular scandal only came to light accidentally — and it’s a mess.  Even if you are of the mindset that accepts unthinkingly the phrase “illegal alien” (is the dog I didn’t get a license for an “illegal dog”, was my car an “illegal car” when I was a month late getting it registered because I couldn’t find a rear taillight lens cap in Alpine, and had to order one by mail?), that doesn’t excuse mistreating minors:

…  several of the children — identified only by their initials because they’re minors — were repeatedly fondled … while others were forced to grope her and perform oral sex on her.

The suit accused two other guards … of beating the minors. On one occasion, according to the suit, García in a drunken rage attacked a boy, throwing him against a door and walls.

Although the FBI investigated, the case was — as these things are — turned over to the local prosecutor.  As a result, nothing was investigated.  On the contrary:

The suit cites a 16-year-old Honduran as the “whistleblower” in the case. After rejecting Leal’s sexual advances, the boy reported her to the center’s top administrators, the suit says.

But instead of supporting him, the administrators retaliated, causing him to attempt suicide before he was transferred to more restrictive youth centers in other states while his deportation case played out in immigration court.

…  Other Nixon children also said they endured similar wrath for trying to report abuse, including being kept without food and forced to sleep on the floor, the lawsuit says. One also said he was kept in an adult immigration detention center, though he was 15, before being sent to Nixon.

All the minors said that, even after asking, they were deprived of mental, medical and dental care after their complaints. Also, they alleged, in many cases officials purposely cut communication with their lawyers, who complained about the transfer of their clients to centers in other states, such as Michigan, without notice.

This particularly abuse center was run by a well-respected not for profit organization (Lutheran Childrens’ Service).  Another “shelter”, run by Baptist  Child and Protective Services, is also located in Nixon.  The church-sponsored charities are not named in the suit —

administrators at Nixon and HHS officials in Washington and South Texas, the suit accuses state officials of negligence. Specifically named are Carey Cockerell, Dianna Spiser and Joyce James, the top bosses at the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

As the licensing agent, TDFPS didn’t appropriately monitor the Nixon center and failed to properly investigate and act on the abuse allegations, such as revoking its license, the lawsuit says.

It says the level of disregard also put the center in violation of the Flores Agreement, a long-standing court settlement under which the government committed to maintain certain detention standards for immigrant minors.

This is a perfect storm of what is wrong with Texas “justice”, the way we deal with “illegal immigrants” and treating incarceration as a profitable enterprise. Texas makes crime pay — there are 2,323 felonies on the books in Texas, which keeps our prisons full.  On top of that, our insatiable demand for low-wage workers, coupled with the collapse of agriculture in Mexico and Central America (again, thanks to our economic policies and system) create a situation where unescorted minors are coming into the U.S.  And, rather than treat them as children, we treat them as criminals.

We put our criminals (and those of other states — Hudspeth Couny has a huge jail, mostly to house State of Idaho prisoners) in jails and prisons and youth facilities… then subcontract the job to rural areas (as rural development).  Prisons, being brutal places, attract brutal people — or brutalize them.  Rural prosecutors are loathe to indict their neighbors for sleazy things like sexual abuse, and — besides — we’re talking about outsiders here.  No one wants to say that the people we go to church with, or see at the Chew-n-Chat, or who live down the road are forcing 15 year old Honduran boys to blow them… but people do that, and the prosecutor’s turn away.

Who knows what’s going on with adult detainees at the “family” facilities at Ritmo and Taylor … and why are we locking up children in the first place?

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