Here I will post reactions from those that were at the meeting yesterday on what occurred.Â All below the fold.
KXAN Austin was at the Commissioners meeting and did a fair report at 6 and will probably repeat it at 10. I didnâ€™t get the call letters of the Spanish language TV station that came late but its channel 60. Lisa Ogle from the AAS was there and Ben Trollinger from the Williamson County Sun. The media had a press release in their hands on the approval of the contact BEFORE the meeting ended.
The woman from Taylor who spoke glowing of the conditions in the prison is Ella Jez. She is a rich Republican Taylor city council member. I have it on good authority that Judge Gattis, head of Williamson County Commissioners Court, spoke to her at the Taylor Chamber of Commerce Banquet last Thursday and asked her to get info and present at the commissioners court. Warden Liles and other CCA people were at the Banquet but I donâ€™t know if she got her tour before or after Gattis asked her to speak. I think I can get more information soon.
According to Commissioner Birkman, the rest of the Court wanted the contract to remain in effect indefinitely but she got them to change it to a 2-year contract.
Progress is slow but definitely heading in the right direction.
Yes I got a chance to speak.Â We were limited to 5 speakers.Â The place was packed!Â We got our say – I must say that ourÂ defense was strong, articulate Â and full of passion… but it was fruitless…. they agreed to renew the lease for 2 more years.
TheyÂ on the other hand hadÂ a conspiracy theorist who stated that “Mexicans” were planning to take over Texas.Â Kidnap women and steal stuff and take them back to Mexico.Â The surprise of the day was Mrs. Ella Jez, Taylor City Council woman from Taylor who spokeÂ “in favor” of the prison.Â SheÂ painted a pretty rosy picture of the facility…. it almost made me want to plan my next vacation there.
No one has had a chance to read the new lease as it was not offered for review.
The woman that spoke favorably about her tour of the facility is a city councilwoman, I think from Taylor.Â Her last name sounds like Swees or Schwees (see above Ella Jez).Â The woman representing CCA is Laurie Shanblum.Â I believe she was actually the person in charge of preparing the prison to become a “residential facility”.
After the vote, many gathered outside the court.Â I observed a man asking many specific, hard hitting questions about the facility.Â Â His name is Mark Smith.Â He is an I-TEAM producer from WFAA – TV in Dallas.Â He has been following a story of Dallas residents that have relatives in the facility.Â Tomorrow night they are running a piece on the family and he is interested on keeping up with what is going onÂ at TDH.Â He has information that those being held are given 24 minutes to eat…they can shower between 6-6:30am…twenty children share 2 toy cars toÂ play with…guards tell residents that if their children don’t behave they can send them away.Â The rebuttal from CCA is that ICE has the decision making ability to separate families if there are any problems.Â It is a privilege, not a right for families to be together.Â If there is a problem woman can be in one facility, men in another, and children with a CPS like facility.
After CCA squirmed and ran, I moved on to the warden to listen to what he had to say.Â He speaks off the record.Â His information was there are about 400 currently being held and half that number is children.Â There isÂ a physician and a physician’s assistant from I believe he said the US Public Healthy Services.Â Once a week, women who need prenatal or gynecological care go to a clinic.
The decision to renew this lease was clearly made in executive session.Â Today Judge Gattis made a motion to renew the lease with a few considerations provided by “lawyers” without discussion.Â Lisa Birkman, fearing for her seat, made some statements that was supposed to make us feel better…there are no US Citizens being detained, she stated classrooms were comparable to classrooms in Round Rock, and a few other remarks to make her seem less blameworthy for her vote to renew.Â I believeÂ the action of the Commissioner’s Court violates the open meeting rule.Â Again, I contend that this decision was made behind close doors without public access.
As I was leaving the Annex, KLBJ was reporting that Williamson County had voted to renew the lease.Â This story is growing daily.Â It is sickening that Williamson County is participating in this abuse of rights and making themselves lackeys of evil.
As Jim Stauber pointed out when he spoke, Valerie Covey said a prayer that she was thankful to enjoy the freedom of this country and that she prayed God would help them make good decisions for Williamson County.Â Jesus would slap the shit out of them.
Perhaps one or moreÂ of the attendees who got to their computer before I did has already told you that the WC Commissioners’ Court did vote to let the CCA contract continue; I do think I heard Judge Gattis say something to the effect of ‘with modifications as discussed today’ but don’t bank on it because my hearing is really deteriorating.Â Jose Orta, on behalf of LULAC had called for several improvements at least during the interim and that may be what the Judge was referring to but I am copying Jose and all the others named hereinÂ to make sure.
The five speakers opposed were a lady from Round Rock whom I had not met before and I couldn’t hear much of what she said including her name, etc.Â Then Peter Dana spoke, followed by Jose Orta, Jim Stauber, and Frances Valdez of the UT Law School Immigration Clinic.Â Before the convening I’d also placed a copy of a letter Melissa Irion (text of that letter below) wrote on each court member’s portion of their dais.
I think only 3 people spoke for the facility; one was this staunch Constitutionalist Party guy who justÂ ran for governor and received around 300 votes from the Florence area, a woman from Taylor who was able to tour the facility and reported favorably, and another woman whose name I didn’t catch but she’s the Austin liaison for CCA and presented a broad background working in juvenile justice.Â However, three pews were almost filled with young men and women dressed in the CCA uniform.Â I guess they were prepared to speak or just to make a showing, don’t know.
Soon I am going to contact TDH and arrange to tour the facility now that I see it’s so easy to do.
Text of Melissa Irion’s letter:
To the Williamson County Commissioners Court:
I am writing to oppose the renewal of the countyâ€™s lease with Correctional Corporation of America for the T. Don Hutto facility.
It is an outrage that the hardworking citizens of this county are paying taxes so that this corporation can make outrageous profits while incarcerating young children and their families.
As the mother of a small infant, I am deeply concerned that children are being kept at a county prison in separate jail cells from their mothers, and a two year old has been taken from her family and put in foster care while her family is jailed.Â The issue of whether the families remain in the United States is an issue for the U.S. courts to decide.Â In the meantime, these families deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, particularly while they are residents of Williamson County.
In addition, if it is true that the federal agency (ICE) has responsibility for the individuals that it detains, it should not be done at the expense of the taxpayers of Williamson County.
At the very least, an independent commission should be created to examine this issue, the treatment of these families and possible alternative solutions, such as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program.Â I hope that this court gives this issue the scrutiny that it deserves.Â
While the facility in Taylor has not specifically been audited, another facility under the operation of CCA has been audited by the Department of Homeland Security.Â Substantial mistreatment of immigrants was reported.Â Before making your decision to renew the lease, I urge you to read this report and ensure that similar violations are not occurring in Williamson County.Â See http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/mgmtrpts/OIG_07-01_Dec06.pdf
Ultimately, the Williamson County Commissionerâ€™s Court is responsible for the renewal or nonrenewal of the lease.Â I hope this court will have the courage to refuse to renew the countyâ€™s lease with Correctional Corporation of America and demand that appropriate action be taken to ensure that the human rights of these immigrants are not violated.