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Immigration Prison

Detainees at the Willacy County Immigration Detention Center in Raymondville, Texas, play basketball in 2006. A private prison company that operated the problem-plagued Willacy County facility from 2006 to 2011 has proposed building an immigration detention facility in Evanston.

There’s no doubt that Evanston’s economy needs help given the current state of energy development in Wyoming. And we applaud officials there for looking to diversify their economy and bring in more jobs.

But the proposed immigration jail would be a Trojan horse – instead of bringing jobs and revenue to Uinta County and the 20,000 people that live there, it would bring with it a private prison company’s baggage and the potential for legal trouble. And the economic boon that the county is expecting may turn out to be a disappointment itself. In fact, if history is to repeat itself, the facility could end up costing Uinta County.

The company that wants to run the jail in Evanston, Management and Training Corporation, has left a trail of lawsuits in its wake, from Texas to New Mexico, and even one in Wyoming already. Its troubled history should be enough to give the county pause.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor gave MTC a contract to operate the Wind River Job Corps Center, a program that offers free technical training to young people. An ongoing lawsuit filed by a former employee alleges that MTC hired a local Native American man in exchange for his help establishing a relationship with the Northern Arapaho Tribe, but then fired him shortly after a public ceremony, when his presence was no longer needed, according to the suit.

The suit also alleges that he was “subjected to unfair treatment including ridicule and harassment due to his Native American ancestry.” Other Native American employees also complained to program leadership about a hostile work environment, and some even quit.

That’s not the only concerning episode in the company’s past.

In New Mexico, MTC ran one of the four companies determined by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General to not be meeting federal requirements for the safety of detainees. The inmates were given moldy food and left in solitary confinement with no explanation or opportunity to appeal. They were subjected to verbal and physical abuse.

And in Texas, more of the same. Willacy County, similar to Uinta in many ways, a rural and economically struggling area, contracted MTC to run an immigration jail in 2006. The issues there abound: Human rights groups found the facility understaffed, the detainees underfed; over a dozen reports of sexual abuse by the guards resulted in at least one convicted of sexually assaulting a female inmate.

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The county terminated its contract with MTC in 2011. MTC then contracted with the Bureau of Prisons to continue management of the facility. Following a 2015 riot in protest of the conditions, Bureau of Prisons canceled its contract, closed the buildings and left the entire staff unemployed.

In December of 2016, Willacy County sued MTC for the millions of dollars in damages the company’s mismanagement of the facility cost the county.

And now MTC is looking at Evanston. It’s naïve to imagine that the company has turned over a new leaf and will properly manage the facility in Uinta County. That’s because MTC is in the business of privatized prisons, an inherently flawed concept that prioritizes the bottom dollar over the safety of both the inmates and the guards.

It’s also distressing that Uinta County officials were only made aware of MTC’s history when told by a reporter. And that even after learning about it, they still endorsed the facility in Evanston.

In the long run, the proposed immigration jail will bring little more than more lawsuits to the state, along with a slew of human rights violations. ICE is considering whether Uinta County is right for the facility; but Uinta County officials should be thinking long and hard about whether the facility is right for them.

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