Liberation photo: Scott Simpson

Liberation photo: Scott Simpson

The incarceration of migrants in Waco, Texas, at both the privately run Jack Harwell Detention Center and the McLennan County Jail, has become a major concern for area activists.

The problem is not only that migrants are being arrested and detained by ICE agents, but how they are treated and how long they are being held. Usually, ICE detainees are held at the Harwell Center—run by  LaSalle Corrections— for 24 hours before being moved.  In the case of Estela Fajardo, however, she was held for three years without a trial, and, while in custody at Harwell, she was sexually abused. More recently Lorenzo Ochoa-Figueroa, another ICE detainee, died in the Center.

This situation contributed to the growth and militancy of the Waco Immigrants’ Alliance which includes a large number of local activists. Their protests led to a trial date finally being set for Fajardo. The protests also called attention to the conditions within the Center and to the oppressive policies of ICE in the greater Waco area.

McLennan County officials are hard-pressed to offer legitimate explanations for retaining the private prison. It is not because LaSalle Corrections can do the job more cost effectively than the government. According to the sheriff’s office, it would save the county up to a million dollars per year to end their contract and resume operations of the facility themselves. The Alliance has demanded that the county commissioners vacate the contract and close the facility. Despite the attention called to the failed inspections and frequent negative coverage by local news organizations, the contract was renewed for another year.

Sadly, conditions at the publicly operated McLennan County Jail are scarcely better. Prisoners who are being held pre-trial are often abused and then stigmatized if they are ever lucky enough to get their release. In a lawsuit filed just a month ago, one inmate describes being assaulted and then retaliated against for reporting it. As this article was being written, the sheriff’s department announced  that a jailer had been fired for illicit sexual activity. Sexual contact with a person in a confined state is is a serious offense, and this happens on a widespread scale. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, five of the 10 prison facilities with the highest reported rates of inmate-on-inmate victimization are in Texas  A U.S. Border Patrol agent murdered four innocent women last month, and on the same day he was finally arrested, an ICE officer was charged with sex crimes.

Prisons in the United States are a capitalist solution to capitalist problems, in this case the “problem” of workers seeking better jobs by moving to the U.S. This problem cannot be solved simply by replacing bad actors with good ones within the current system. We need full rights and a path to citizenship for all migrants instead of criminalizing people seeking a better life. We need jobs, education and healthcare for all, not mass incarceration.