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Reeves County Detention Center, which houses immigrants who committed low-level offenses, is run by the private GEO Group corporation on a $493 million contract with the federal government. The DOJ found numerous problems with the operation. (Photo: H. Michael Karshis/flickr/cc)

DOJ Report Slams For-Profit Texas Immigrant Prison

Reeves County Detention Center is understaffed and ignores security problems, report finds

Nadia Prupis

Reeves County Detention Center in West Texas, which houses mostly immigrants and was the scene of prisoner unrest in 2008 and 2009, is understaffed and has repeatedly failed to address administrative and security problems, according to a new report (pdf) published Thursday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

The 2,400-bed prison, which houses immigrants who committed low-level offenses, is the largest of its kind and run by the private correctional corporation The GEO Group, which also runs 100 other prisons and rehab centers around the world.

Between October 2008 and December 2013, Reeves did not have enough medical or correctional personnel on staff, used an improper area of the prison to isolate inmates, and failed to address problems with security, health services, and record-keeping, the DOJ found.

The GEO Group has a $493 million contract with the DOJ to operate Reeves—the second-largest contract awarded by the department in the 2014 fiscal year—although the jail is overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The contract is set to run through 2017.

In June of last year, a study by the ACLU found that the GEO Group was one of a few companies operating Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities where immigrants detained for illegally entering the U.S. are held in inhumane conditions.

According to the DOJ report, the GEO Group "[c]onsistently struggled to meet or exceed baseline contractual standards; received an unacceptable number of deficiencies and notices of concern; was unresponsive to (Bureau of Prison) inquiries; struggled with staffing issues in health services and correctional services; and frequently submitted inaccurate routine paperwork, including erroneous disciplinary hearing records and monthly invoices."

DOJ auditors also found that nearly $3 million in expenses charged to the government by GEO Group was "unallowable or unsupported," meaning that the money could have been used more appropriately.

Thursday's report also criticized an area of Reeves prison known as the "J-Unit," a section ordinarily used for general housing but which prison officials recently began using to segregate certain inmates perceived to be troublesome.

That change came in October 2013, after inmates held a facility-wide demonstration demanding better treatment from officials. Following the protest, "the new purpose of the J-Unit would be to isolate the 'representatives' or leaders and their associates from the rest of the compound’s population, to prevent them from exerting control over other... inmates," the report states.

However, the report found that in many cases, inmates were sent to J-Unit with no explanation, and often lost their privileges to attend classes and work—as is standard for those housed in that section of the prison.

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