Saturday, August 18, 2007

Big country; big prisons; big business

News from Iraq keeps getting more disconcerting. The military-industrial corporatist cabal, now in Washington and contracting with neoconservative pundits who can rationalize their avarice, is beginning to pervade and contaminate an already materialist national conscious. Even in West Texas it seems the prison state has invaded, at once invited into the wake of a depressed region with depressed oil reserves, and now competing with a resurgence in the oil market.

Even in tiny Balmorhea this week, seismographic crews began stretching wire across electronic equipment mounted on flotation devices in Lake Balmorhea, searching for oil thousands of feet below the desert surface. I'm surprised that the Bush Administration hasn't ordered it's network of BOP facilities to provide inmate labor in this renewed search for West Texas crude.

The federal government has recently been at the "bidness" of opening scores of new prisons in the southwest dedicated to the detention of illegal immigrants, immigrants whose only charge is that they crossed the border. Thanks to the lobbying of the private prison industry, crossing the Rio Grand is now a felony offense. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is aggressively filling new facilities including those run by The GEO Group, who is the largest employer in Reeves County.

Are we getting too good at this? I'm sure the Iraqis are not pleased with our corporatist adventurism. Here is a story linked this week to Raw Story that may help us understand what thin "ICE" we walk upon in Texas:

Thousands of Iraqi Civilian prisoners held without charges

by Waleed Ibrahim and Peter Graff

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Rare footage from inside a Baghdad prison camp shows hundreds of inmates packed into wire-mesh tents, protesting their innocence.

"I have been jailed for two years and have never been put before a judge or court!" one prisoner is shown shouting.

The video pictures were given to Reuters Television on Saturday by the office of Sunni Arab Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi, who visited the Rusafa prison compound in eastern Baghdad with his Shi'ite counterpart.

Hashemi told the prisoners that the authorities were working to speed up their cases and he promised better treatment.

The footage showed row upon row of outdoor tents made of wire mesh and covered with white plastic sheeting, each about the size of a basketball court and housing dozens of inmates.

"We are not asking for food or water. Just free us. We have committed no crimes," said one inmate....

This matches the feelings and reports of neglect and abuse currently being reported in Texas among immigrants detained in what can only be called prison camps.

Here in Reeves County, where prisons are becoming part of the local -- still depressed -- economy, the county operates in partnership with The GEO Group to house over 3000 "CAR-5" Bureau of Prison inmates, all of whom are foreign nationals detained for crimes committed in the United States. After serving their sentences they will be deported to their home countries.

The GEO Group has recently been a national focus of interest due to medical issues at its Del Rio facility where four foreign nationals being held under Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract became ill last week with a "mystery illness," two of whom died. The Centers for Disease Control was invited in for an investigation of the malady that until autopsies reveal the cause, is generating rumors along the Texas-Mexican border.

Investigators are promising to release the results early next week. Anonymous inmate sources provide their own explanation, one related to a string of immigrant complains concerning food improperly stored at the GEO run facility. These sources -- you heard it first from the Balmorhea Progressive -- report that a spoiled meal of calves liver is the culprit but this leak by inmates remains unconfirmed and could have been inspired by a recent find of maggots in food prepared and served to the detained immigrant population.

More will be revealed on this blog as reports issue. In the meantime, you may find interesting this background article [pdf] by the Stopp Coalition on the privatization of prisons in the United States.



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