Thursday, May 8, 2008

GEO's Pearsall Unit -- Mounting Reports of Sexual Abuse & Assault on Migrant Detainees


In the last minutes of the WOAI news video segment [located here], following Warden D.C. Cole's standard company comment, "I am not at liberty to discuss the matter at this time," you will note that corrections officers, following his lead, declined to speak as well. In fact, many denied knowledge of any wrong doing. The editors here at This Ain't My First Rodeo can only surmise, despite the leaks that are occurring early this morning by those finally coming forward, that many officers feel intimidated by a company becoming notorious for retaliation against those who do not toe the company line with the press. As for this staff of editors -- we do not work for The GEO Group; although, some have worked for Reeves County, a much preferred employer.

It seems that when it rains it pours.

Allegations of sexual assault and abuse were reported on Tuesday, May 6, at The GEO Group run South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, Texas. The unit is located an hour southwest of San Antonio and is contracted to GEO by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Many readers here in Pecos will remember that Deputy Warden David C. Cole, who appears briefly in the video below, was reassigned to the Pearsall Unit last year by The GEO Group after a string of complaints by employees alleging what many described here at RCDC-III as an insufferable authoritarian attitude. So we send our warm wishes to D.C. Cole in the hopes that he can manage the stress on his unit without "losing it." That may be difficult.

This is by no means the first unit managed by The GEO Group from which reports of sexual abuse and assault have been alleged. GEO lost the Coke County Juvenile Center contract last year for problems not only of abuse; but also, for a level of neglect of adolescent detainees so egregious that the inmates began displaying what appeared in the estimate of some experts to be signs of decompensation of the personalities of some youth into brief reactive psychosis, indicated by such behaviors as smearing feces on the walls and floors.

In 1999, GEO, then known as the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, lost its contract at the Travis County State Jail, east of Austin, due to sexual abuse and assault. At the time, a female inmate became pregnant by what DNA testing proved to be the night supervisor over Security. Administration officials at the jail had been ignoring complaints from female inmates concerning the abuse until an anonymous employee reported it to county officials. When an investigation was launched, it was alleged that Wackenhut officials began shredding documents before search warrants could be issued.

It can never be stated categorically that a corporation is directly at fault for the criminal behavior of its employees. Nevertheless, one has to wonder at the history of "lobbying efforts" utilized by The GEO Group in the past on behalf of healthy "preventative" PR with local and state politicians and inspectors who might "inadvertently" apply "too rigorous" a standard when monitoring GEO's contracts or who might benefit by "personal contact or encouragement" when the company is seeking assistance with damage control.

In fact, we posted an article last week, thanks to Texas Prison Bid'ness, that documented GEO's position at the top of the charts in Texas on behalf of "lobbying efforts." Much of The GEO Group's "pouring in of resources," occurred in the wake of the Coke County fiasco, and was directed at members of Sen. John Whitmire and members of his Senate Criminal Justice Committee who had initiated hearings looking into GEO's operations in Texas. At the time, it was reported by many news agencies and bloggers that the Senator and his committee felt highly insulted by The GEO Group's near overwhelming presence via professional lobbyists at the doors of his committee chambers and at the offices of committee members. Even if the GEO Group had no shame, Senator Whitmire was incredulous that they spared no efforts in impugning his good name. Call it what you want, "lobbying" is under the national spotlight during this election season, especially by those who want to see a return to viable democracy.

The article, written by Brian Collister, comes from WOAI.com in San Antonio. Note as well, there are allegations of a cover-up:
Startling allegations of sexual assault are coming out about a facility that holds illegal immigrants. It's said to be happening in Pearsall, just about an hour outside of San Antonio. News 4 Trouble Shooter Brian Collister is uncovering how some guards may be victimizing the women they are supposed to be protecting.

Many of the immigrants held here are women. Some have fled abuse in their home country, only to be reportedly abused again behind these bars.

A former detainee, who asked us not to identify her told us, "It was going on a lot. It was going on almost all the time, the sexual abuse."

She claims sexual abuse came from the guards. She said while she was there she rejected advances by one of the guards, but said other girls were too scared to put up a fight.

"Some of the guards actually tried to force themselves on the girls and that they've told them that if they ever said anything about it, that they have the power with ICE to deport them," explained this former detainee.

The guards work for a private company called GEO, hired by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to run the prison. Sexual contact with detainees is not allowed. In fact, it's a crime.

The former detainee said, "Some of the girls ended up pregnant by some of the officers there." [story continues here]

We will continue to track the ever increasingly notorious GEO Group. In the meantime, here is the Comment Section of Topix for Pearsall. We hope you find it as interesting as we did.

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There is a prescription for burnout that is ranked above all others for its destructive potential on the human psyche; that is, being held responsible for conditions one has no power to control.

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