Monday, September 03, 2007

ACLU Challenges Prison-Like Conditions at Hutto Detention Center

Wow! This is a great victory by the ACLU. It will serve as a good precedent for future ICE-related incarcerations. -Angela

ACLU Challenges Prison-Like Conditions at Hutto Detention Center

Belkys Blanco (right) and her daughter Susana Rodriguez, prepare to depart from the Austin airport to stay with family or friends while they pursue their asylum claims. Belkys and Susana were detained at Hutto since early February 2007.

On August 27, the ACLU announced a landmark settlement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that greatly improves conditions for immigrant children and their families in the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.

The settlement was the result of lawsuits brought earlier this year on behalf of 26 immigrant children detained with their parents at Hutto. The lawsuits contended that the conditions inside the detention center violate numerous provisions of Flores v. Meese, a 1997 court settlement that established minimum standards and conditions for the housing and release of all minors in federal immigration custody.

Since the original lawsuits were filed, all 26 children represented by the ACLU have been released. The last six children were released days before the settlement was finalized and are now living with family members who are U.S. citizens and/or legal permanent residents while pursuing their asylum claims.

Conditions at Hutto have gradually and significantly improved as a result of the groundbreaking litigation. Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.

In addition to making those improvements permanent, the settlement also requires ICE to provide, among other things:

allow children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility
provide a full-time, on-site pediatrician
eliminate the count system which forces families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day
install privacy curtains around toilets
offer field trip opportunities to children
supply more toys and age- and language-appropriate books
improve the nutritional value of food

ICE must also allow regular legal orientation presentations by local immigrants’ rights organizations; allow family and friends to visit Hutto detainees seven days a week; and allow children to keep paper and pens in their rooms. ICE’s compliance with each of these reforms, as well as other conditions reforms, will be subject to external oversight to ensure their permanence.

Despite the tremendous improvements at Hutto, the facility retains its essential character: it was a medium security prison managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit adult corrections company. The ACLU remains adamant that detaining immigrant children at Hutto is inappropriate and calls on Congress to compel DHS to find humane alternatives for managing families whose immigration status is in limbo.

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