Susan Carroll, Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2010
ICE and the private prison company Corrections Corporation of America have agreed to make more than 24 changes at nine facilities. The changes include:
* Relaxing security: Low-risk detainees will have “freedom of movement” in the facilities and will no longer be subject to lock downs or lights out.
*Access: Detainees will be able to have visitors stay as long as they like within a 12-hour window. The facilities will increase attorney visitation space, add un-monitored phone lines and give detainees email and free, Internet-based calling. A unit manager will be available to take complaints directly from detainees.
* Daily life: Detainees will be allowed to wear regular clothing, will have at least four hours of recreation daily, and will be offered cooking, art and dance classes.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are preparing to roll out a series of changes at several privately owned immigration detention centers, including relaxing some security measures for low-risk detainees and offering art classes, bingo and continental breakfast on the weekends.
The changes, detailed in an internal ICE e-mail obtained by the Houston Chronicle, were welcomed by immigrant advocates who have been waiting for the Obama administration to deliver on a promise made in August to overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system.
Some of the changes will be implemented within 30 days; others may take up to six months, said Beth Gibson, ICE’s senior counselor to Assistant Secretary John Morton and a leader of the detention reform effort.
Other major changes include:
* Providing e-mail access and Internet-based free phone service.
Not about punishment
Gibson said the improvements are part of ICE’s efforts to detain immigrants in the least restrictive manner possible while ensuring they leave the country if ordered to do so.
“When people come to our custody, we’re detaining them to effect their removal,” Gibson said. “It’s about deportation. It’s not about punishing people for a crime they committed.”
At the CCA facilities that have agreed to ICE’s changes, detainees will see more variety in their dining hall menus and have self-serve beverage and fresh vegetable bars.
CCA also plans to offer movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring and computer training, the e-mail states.
Detainees also will be allowed four hours or more of recreation “in a natural setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise.”
CCA also committed to improving the look of the facilities, such as requiring plants, fresh paint and new bedding in lower-risk units.
Some of the improvements offered at the CCA facilities counted as hard-fought victories for immigrant advocates, including plans to improve visitor and attorney access.
Union members said they have concerns about the plans, primarily focusing on safety.