Friday, February 29, 2008

New Yorker article on Hutto

The New Yorker feature A Reporter At Large this week has what may be one of the most comprehensive articles on the T Don Hutto facility and the national issue of family detention. Reporter Margaret Talbot's article "The Lost Children" includes discussions of immigrant detention, the role of corporations in lobbying for greater incarceration, the impact of detention on children, and some of the chronology of Hutto's evolution.

The complete article is available free on their website. In the meantime, some highlights from the abstract include:

Hutto is one of two immigrant-detention facilities in America that house families—the other is in Berks County, Pennsylvania—and is the only one owned and run by a private prison company. The detention of immigrants is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in this country, and, with the support of the Bush Administration, it is becoming a lucrative business. At the end of 2006, some fourteen thousand people were in government custody for immigration-law violations, in a patchwork of detention arrangements, including space rented out by hundreds of local and state jails, and seven freestanding facilities run by private contractors.

Last August, the A.C.L.U. settled its suit against the government. The agreement entails a number of changes at Hutto, including eliminating the head-count system, providing pajamas for children, letting kids keep a limited number of toys in their room during the day, making a priority of hiring people with experience in child welfare, and installing curtains around the toilets. In the months before the lawsuit was settled, Hutto had already started making changes: it got rid of the razor wire; expanded the length of educational instruction, first to four, then to seven hours a day; and began allowing detainees to wear their own clothes. Yet it seems unlikely that these changes would have been made without pressure from the A.C.L.U. lawsuit and from advocates like Barbara Hines and her students. The settlement also aimed to get people out of detention faster and stipulated that families at Hutto have their cases reviewed every thirty days, to determine if they could be released on parole or on bond.

It’s clear that Hutto is now a very different, and more humane, place than it was before the lawsuit. But, Gupta says, “it shouldn’t have taken the A.C.L.U. to make the government realize that holding innocent children in a converted medium-security adult prison is a bad idea.”

A separate internal memo, which was obtained by the A.C.L.U., expressed particular concern about the high turnover among employees at Hutto. The memo’s author, whose name is redacted, complains about how hard it was to get straight answers from C.C.A. about staffing. (“Approximately five requests were made.”) The memo goes on to report that, of the three hundred and thirty-eight employees who had been hired since Hutto opened, in May, 2006, two hundred and three had quit or been fired by March, 2007. That meant that “the average length of employment for the 170 critical positions of detention officer, program facilitator, correctional officer, and case manager is 3.01 months. C.C.A. is losing staff as quick as they can hire them.” The memo blames low pay—C.C.A. pays new employees $10.22 an hour, versus the county standard of $14.36. (In general, private prison companies pay considerably less than public prisons.) The memo continues, “Unfortunately, the caliber of some employees at the T. Don Hutto facility is not as high as it should be considering the nature of business that is required in managing a family residential detention facility.”

When we place families in a facility like Hutto, are we punishing them for coming to America? Or are we just keeping them somewhere safe, so that they don’t get separated or disappear while we figure out what to do with them? Or, rather, is our policy to try somehow to combine the practical and the punitive? After all, if the goal was simply to keep track of immigrants, in most cases an electronic monitoring bracelet would suffice. And if the goal was simply to keep families together, we could surely house them in something other than a former prison, in a place where employees are trained in child welfare and kids can get fresh air. The decision to house families in a former prison was, perhaps, not so arbitrary after all. At the meeting that day, Cynthia Long, one of the county commissioners, a woman in a businesslike red blazer and glasses, spoke about keeping families together. But she also said something that probably represented the gut feeling of a lot of people who are angry about illegal immigration. Long said, “The thing we forget is the adults who are being detained have broken the law.” Unfortunately, she went on, children sometimes “have to suffer with the sins of our parents”—“to suffer, if you can call it that, because of their parents’ choices.”

Click here to learn more about the history of T. Don Hutto.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hutto, Texas

Hutto, Texas (78634) is in Williamson County. So is the T Don Hutto immigrant detention facility. This has been the source of some confusion.

According to Wikipedia, the population of Hutto, TX was 1,250 at the 2000 census but had swelled to 7,401 by the 2005 census estimate. A small town quickly becoming a sleeper community for people working in Austin.

Not to be confused with the T Don Hutto facility, a 512-bed facility designed to hold families. (Named for one of the original founders of the Corrections Corporation of America, the private company that operates the facility.)

And, as far as we can tell, it's thoroughly coincidental that the two happen to lie less than 10 miles apart.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Hutto an issue in Williamson Co Republican primary

Steve Laukhuf, an advertising executive in Round Rock, will be challenging incumbent Lisa Birkman in the Republican Precinct 1 primary for County Commissioner. In addition to to a platform centering on creating a fiscally conservative budget and government accessibility, Laukhuf has publicly opposed the T. Don Hutto facility.

From Melissa Mixon's Feb 14th article in the Austin-American Statesman:

Incumbent Lisa Birkman is being challenged by Round Rock advertising agency president Steve Laukhuf.

Laukhuf, who is chairman of the Round Rock Chamber of Commerce, said his campaign is centered on creating a fiscally conservative county budget, stopping wasteful spending and making government more open and accessible. He said he'd like to have Commissioners Court meetings aired on local television and posted online. He wants to eliminate a rule approved by Birkman and other commissioners in October that requires the public to abide by a dress code during their meetings.

He also said he's opposed to the county's involvement with the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a controversial immigrant detainment facility in Taylor.

Precinct 1 is in the southern central part of the county and includes most of Round Rock, along with parts of Austin, Georgetown and the Brushy Creek Municipal Utility District.

For more analysis, see Texas Prison Bid'ness.

Texas grassroots push to bring Hutto to Democratic caucuses

An opportunity has arisen to bring the issue of the families detained at the T. Don Hutto to the caucuses coming up on March 4th.

Here's how it works: On March 4th, after the polls close, people will gather at their respective precincts for caucuses. Anyone who attends the caucus can introduce resolutions and platform issues. It can help to speak to your County party beforehand if you would like to have all precincts in your area have the resolution in their packet. Once a resolution is submitted, those who attend will debate the proposed resolution as well as vote. If the item is approved, it will be passed on to the County platform committee, which will discuss incorporating the proposal at the County level. At the County level, if approved, it will be forwarded on up to the State level.

More on the process is available at the blogs Grits for Breakfast and Burnt Orange Report. Anyone can introduce a resolution at the caucuses, but it helps tremendously for the resolutions to be submitted in many precincts around the state. It's a great way to get some grassroots publicity for the campaign to close Hutto. Click here for a draft resolution for the Democratic caucuses or view it at Texas Prison Bid'ness. It can can be easily adjusted for the Republican caucuses by changing the party name. If you are planning on submitting the resolution, please email boblibal[at] so we can keep track of where the resolutions are being submitted.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Hutto film screening in Taylor

Hutto: America's Family Prison will have its official Taylor debut screening on Thursday, February 28th at The Howard Theatre. Also screening is Heather Courtney's film Los Trabajadores/The Workers. A discussion will follow the screenings, moderated by Taylor resident Jose Orta.

When: Thursday, Feb. 28th. 7pm
Where: The Howard Theatre is located at 308 Main St. Taylor, TX.
What: Screening of Hutto: America's Family prison (filmmaker will be in attendance) and Los Trabajadores/The Workers, plus a discussion on detention and immigration issues with local residents.

Download a flyer containing all the information on the screening.

Click here for MapQuest directions or call the Howard at (512) 352-2995.
Sponsored by the East Williamson County Democratic Club.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Benefit for former Hutto detainee in Houston

This Saturday in Houston there will be a benefit for a former Hutto detainee and her young family. There will be a film screening, discussion, and after party.
Click here to learn more, download a flyer, and hear PSAs on the event.

Saturday, Feb. 9th 7:00pm
Screening at MECA: Multicultural Education and Counseling Through the Arts

1900 Kane Street Houston, TX 77007
Call (713) 802-9370 for directions.
$5-10 donation

Discussion on deportation, detention and our current immigration policy to follow

After-party to benefit MECA and a formerly detained family
($10 includes food and drink tickets)
For more information, contact:
Luissana at 512-968-8738

America's Family Prison to air on local PBS station

An abridged version of the short film "Hutto: America's Family Prison" be airing on TV tomorrow night in Austin. It'll be on the KLRU show Docubloggers at 7:30pm. That's PBS-KLRU, channel 18 or channel 9 if you have cable.

Great opportunity to have your own screening! Get some popcorn, invite some friends, and watch this revealing new short film together.

From the Austin Statesman interview with one of the filmmakers:

Filmmakers Lily Keber and Matt Gossage teamed up to make a documentary after hearing about the facility, and being frustrated by a lack of media attention on the facility, Keber said.

The two started work on the project over the summer, eventually interviewing community activists and families who lived at T. Don Hutto. Part of the film includes an interview with a woman who was pregnant while she was held in the facility. The woman describes how she tried to sneak blankets into her room because she and her children were cold.

Keber said she hopes the film will educate people on what’s happening at the facility as well as nationally with immigration policy.

“Immigrant detention is not something most people are aware of…,” she said. “But, it’s a very topical issue.”