Santa Maria Community Members Say Not 1 More ICE Facility in California

Today, over 100 local, statewide, and national organizations as well as individuals sent the Santa Maria Planning Commission a letter urging the Commission not to approve the developer’s permit to build another ICE facility in California.

After hundreds of community members filled the Santa Maria City Council chamber on January 21, 2014, the latest information we have received from ICE is that ICE is seeking to relocate the existing Enforcement Removal Office personnel, who are working in temporary office space at the Federal Correctional Complex in Lompoc, to permanent office space in nearby Santa Maria.  The new location will have secure space for interviewing and holding for up to 12 hours individuals who are coming into ICE custody following their release from area jails or prisons.  It will not have overnight holding or bed space.  However, as detailed in the planned development permit, the facility will have barbed wire on the perimeter fence and a six-foot-high security fence.  

“Whether ICE’s presence takes the form of an office building, a short-term holding facility, or a long-term immigration detention facility, we oppose the increased presence of ICE in the City of Santa Maria,” said Hazel Davalos, the Santa Maria Community Organizer with CAUSE.

The City of Santa Maria’s increased collaboration with ICE runs counter to the TRUST Act, AB 4, which was signed by Governor Brown in October 2013 and went into effect January 1, 2014.  The TRUST Act recognizes that increased cooperation with ICE can “harm community policing efforts because immigrant residents who are victims of or witnesses to crime, including domestic violence, are less likely to report crime or cooperate with law enforcement when any contact with law enforcement could result in deportation.”

“The Trust Act has made clear that the State of California believes less cooperation with ICE is in the interest of public safety and community policing,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).  “This proposed permit runs directly counter to California’s intentions and will erode public safety and community trust.”

California has the largest population of undocumented immigrants, and the largest deportation rates. The City of Santa Maria itself is a hub of agro-industrial activity and a thriving immigrant farmworker community.  

Come join us:

What: Santa Maria Planning Commission Meeting

When: Wednesday, February 5th

Time: 6:15 p.m.

Location: Santa Maria Fairgrounds (937 South Thornburg Street, Santa Maria, CA 93458)

Who: Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), and Santa Maria community members.

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NGOs Urge Congress and the President to End the Lock Up Quota

Earlier this week, CIVIC along with 131 undersigned non-governmental civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, legal services, and faith-based organizations, sent letters to the President urging him to reject the principle of a bed quota in his forthcoming FY 2015 budget request and urging members of the Congressional Appropriations Committees not to include bed quota language in their FY 2015 appropriations bills later this year. You can find links to the letters here and here.  

To sign the petition to end the bed quota, click here.

A Place of Refuge in Georgia

Listen to Latino USA highlight the work of El Refugio!  El Refugio is a member of CIVIC, offering hospitality and place of refuge for visitors to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.  Through El Refugio, the community is supporting the family members of detained immigrants. One small act of kindness–creating a place to stay–helps these families visit their loved ones. The people in Lumpkin also create an opportunity for people to come and meet those affected by immigration detention policies.

“Our faith is a huge motivator. We believe that when it says we should welcome the stranger, that is what we should do,” says Charlotte Flores, a founder of El Refugio.

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest

By Pat Gunn

One year ago, Christina Fialho of CIVIC visited us up in Seattle and helped put together a volunteer visitation program at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.   This is the story of our journey in one year. 

About 18 months ago, several Unitarians in the Pacific Northwest got together to discuss immigration, issues around immigration, and the detention center located in Tacoma, Washington. We had different points of view and different levels of involvement with detained persons.  A Unitarian Universalist (UU) who had visited a person detained for 19 months suggested a volunteer visitation program at the detention center could be a worthwhile social justice goal for our interests.

This seemed like a simple task. People in detention want to be visited and people want to visit detained persons. All we would do would be provide a structure to match these two groups of people.  So, guided by Paulo Freire’s belief that “you make the road by walking,” we began our volunteer visitation program development journey.   We needed maps, and so we began to ask people about the detention center.  Like ruined columns on the Aegean coast, we found remnants of old visitation programs, a document here and there, a person who had visited detained persons. 

Several things became clear.  We had virtually no access to detained persons.  We had no structure for volunteer recruitment, retainment or training. We had no way to ensure the sustainability of our program, even if we did build it.

On our journey, we found the Northwest Detention Center Roundtable, a non-profit umbrella of agencies, interfaith, and community-based organizations interested in conditions at the detention center.   They were looking to build a volunteer visitation program, and we were hoping to build it.

Our volunteer visitation program quickly became ensconced in the Roundtable.  We are glad to be part of the Roundtable, for many reasons. Building a sustainable volunteer visitation program is not easy, and as a part of the Roundtable, we are able to work with a great group of people here locally. 

We have had great growth, sending in 22 volunteers, and providing training to over 40 through the help of CIVIC and the Roundtable. We have been able to get a phone line installed in the detention center so that detained persons can request visitation.  With this direct referral system, we are beginning to match volunteer visitors with detained persons who have been in detention quite awhile, in one case 31 months. 

The phone line provides a steady influx of referrals, while retaining confidentiality of the persons requesting a visit. It ensures, unlike past visitation program attempts, volunteer visitors will be matched with a detained person.

So, one landmark on our journey to a sustainable program has been constructed.  We have many more landmarks to construct.  We must build a volunteer support system that honors the individual journeys of our volunteer visitors and reflects their knowledge and experience. We need to capture the expertise of our mentors so that new mentors have a pathway to guiding volunteers.  We need to create a website that reflects the vibrancy of the volunteer visitation program, and we need funding to hire a part-time volunteer coordinator.  We need to continue the educational process about what confidentiality is for detained persons and how to honor that as we advocate for detained persons.

So, we are making our road.  We look forward to meeting other Volunteer Visitation Program Builders at the CIVIC conference this spring, and with bonhomie, we look to sharing the road!

Pat Gunn is a former ESL teacher who taught at the King County Correctional Facility for eight years. She is a member of CIVIC and a leader of the visitation movement.

Shareholder Resolution Seeks to Lower Prison Phone Rates at CCA Facilities

Shareholder Resolution Seeks to Lower Prison Phone Rates at Corrections Corporation of America Facilities

Nashville, TN – Just before Thanksgiving, a shareholder resolution was filed with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) – the nation’s largest for-profit prison company – that seeks to reduce the high cost of phone calls made by prisoners at CCA facilities.

Prison phone rates are typically much higher than non-prison rates, and a 15-minute call from a prisoner to his or her family can cost up to $17.30. Such exorbitant costs make it difficult for prisoners to maintain contact with their families and children on a regular basis; an estimated 2.7 million children in the United States have an incarcerated parent. The costs of prison phone calls are usually borne by prisoners’ families, not the prisoners themselves.

In September, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order capping the cost of long distance prison phone calls. FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn remarked that “Studies have shown that having meaningful contact beyond prison walls can make a real difference in maintaining community ties, promoting rehabilitation, and reducing recidivism. Making these calls more affordable can facilitate all of these objectives and more.” However, the FCC’s order has not yet gone into effect and does not apply to in-state prison phone calls.

Thus, Alex Friedmann, associate director of the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC), a non-profit organization dedicating to protecting the human rights of prisoners and detainees, submitted a shareholder resolution that asks CCA to reduce the cost of phone calls made by prisoners held at the company’s correctional and immigration detention facilities.

HRDC is a co-founder and coordinator of the Campaign for Prison Phone Justice, in conjunction with the Center for Media Justice/Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) and Working Narratives. With additional support from CIVIC, the Campaign was instrumental in the FCC’s decision to take action against high prison phone rates and other abuses by the prison phone industry.

The shareholder resolution requests that CCA not accept “commissions” – kickbacks paid by prison phone companies, usually based on a percentage of revenue generated by prisoners’ phone calls. Commission kickbacks correlate with higher prison phone rates, and eight states (including California and New York) have banned prison phone commissions (note these statewide bans do not lower phones rates in county jails and immigration detention facilities).

Further, the resolution asks that CCA “give the greatest consideration to the overall lowest” costs when evaluating or entering into prison phone contracts at its facilities. The resolution notes that at one CCA-operated facility in Tennessee, the company receives a 48% kickback and that a 15-minute call from the facility “can cost as much as $9.75.” CCA received $205,136.78 in prison phone commissions at that one facility in fiscal year 2012 alone.

“As the largest private prison and detention corporation in the country, CCA has a responsibility to ensure that the families of incarcerated individuals are able to maintain the vital relationships needed in the rehabilitation process,” stated Steven Renderos, national organizer for the Center for Media Justice. “For immigrants in detention, a phone call can be the difference between securing adequate legal representation or not being able to see their families again.”

If the resolution receives a majority vote of CCA’s shareholders, it will require the company to ensure its prison phone contracts comply with the terms of the resolution within 180 days, and to report to shareholders the phone rates and commissions at its facilities on an annual basis.

Recently, CCA vice president Kim White wrote that rehabilitation and reentry programs are a “top priority” for the company. “It is important to us to see inmates grow during their incar-ceration, offering them the chance at a better life for themselves and their families after their release,” she said. “This is part of our responsibility to society as a corrections company, and it’s also essential to serving our government partners and taxpayers well.”

“This resolution gives CCA an opportunity to prove they are truly interested in rehabilitating prisoners and reducing recidivism,” Friedmann stated. “By decreasing the high costs of prison phone calls, the company can promote greater communication between prisoners and their families and children, which research has shown results in improved post-release outcomes and lower rates of recidivism. Or, if CCA is primarily concerned about its profit margin, it will object to the resolution and try to prevent it from going to a shareholder vote.”