The detention of immigrants is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States, according to an excellent story in The New Yorker by Margaret Talbot that focuses on abuses against immigrant families with no criminal records at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center – a former medium-security prison in rural Taylor, Texas, set some 40 miles northeast of Austin.
Hutto is one of only two immigrant-detention facilities in the U.S. that house families, and the only one owned and run by a private prison company: Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest. Most of the residents are from Central and South America, though many are seeking political asylum from countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Romania.
Conditions at Hutto – in which families are ripped apart and children are forced to wear prison-issue scrubs and spend most of their time locked away in former jail cells – were exposed last year by students at the University of Texas Law School's immigration law clinic. Talbot tracks down several families once detained there.
One Columbian woman who was stuck at Hutto for nearly a year and now lives in South Boston says her 10- and 12-year-old daughters remain traumatized. "They can't stop thinking and talking about prison," she said. The article cites a report written by Baylor College of Medicine professor of psychiatry Richard Pesikoff that criticizes Hutto as "capable of contributing to the development of unnecessary anxiety and stress for these children."
Last March, the UT clinic joined with the ACLU and a large law firm to sue the federal immigration officials who oversee Hutto. Several months later, a settlement was reached that led to changes, including letting kids keep toys in their cells, getting rid of the razor wire that encircled the facility and hiring workers with experience in child welfare. – Todd Spivak
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