Thursday, January 8, 2009

Austin Chronicle: Lipstick on a Doberman

The Austin Chronicle's Patricia Ruland offers some welcomed analysis of the Williamson County Commissioners' rationale for renewing the T. Don Hutto contract:

On Dec. 23, the Williamson County Com missioners Court reinvented the commissioners' motives for renewing the contract for the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Tay lor, where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement incarcerates families, including children, awaiting deportation or related legal procedures. Before voting to renew a 2006 contract naming the county as administrator of the center (and Correc tions Corporation of America as operator), officials described the prison as if it were a home away from home where children laugh and play and are provided plenty of gym equipment and 22 computers.

"The international language, the smile, hasn't been removed from the children's faces," said Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison. "I talked to a little boy, and he liked it there," said Precinct 2 Commis sion er Cynthia Long. Then came a shout from the audience: "How would you like it if your child was in there?"

The court's newfound humanitarianism stood in stark contrast to its purely financial justification for signing the contract in 2005 and its panic in 2007 over possible county liability for an alleged sexual assault by a guard and employment of undocumented workers at the center. The new court perspective did little to appease the gathered protesters, who still remember when the first children were spotted in prison garb by Taylor residents and who have since sponsored vigils, walks, and forums that have fueled an international outrage over T. Don Hutto as a prison for children. Only Precinct 1 Com mis sion er Lisa Birkman broke with her past record, casting the lone dissenting vote Tuesday.
Ruland also covered Williamson County residents' responses...

During citizens' comments, area residents spoke passionately, and some broke into tears. "I was really shocked to hear about Hutto. I spread the word to any people I know," said Felix Peter Szafran. "Kids are in prison for no reason." Ann Brown noted that CCA's CEO made about $1.8 million last year "on the backs of children," adding, "This is on your conscience – this is on the conscience of everyone in William son County." Retired Methodist Bishop Joe Wilson said, "We have not honored the gracious gift of life."
Jaime Martinez, board member of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), also spoke to the Chronicle about President-elect Obama's response to family detention. We covered it last summer, and encourage everyone to make it a priority for the new Obama administration. As Martinez states in the article, Congress has appropriated funds for nonpenal family custody and other models do exist.

Leaving aside the false choice of family separation vs. Hutto, the idea that detaining families is good for children is a flimsy delusion at best. As one WilCo resident asked,

How would you like it if your child was in there?

(Photo by Jana Birchum)