Protesting demeaning living conditions and lack of medical care and demanding respect for their dignity, inmates took control of a privately run federal prison in South Texas Feb. 20 before attacks by local police and the FBI put down the protest the following day.
The Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, Texas, 40 miles north of the Mexican border, imprisons nearly 3,000 undocumented workers, many for the “crime” of returning to the U.S. after having been deported. It’s run by for-profit contractor Management and Training Corp.
At the Willacy facility, prisoners are packed into 10 Kevlar tents, 200 in each, with only three feet between each bed. Because of overcrowding, new arrivals are often placed in solitary confinement for extended periods, according to a June 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report. “They treat us like animals,” Sergio, a 26-year-old originally from Honduras, told the ACLU.
The protest began when inmates refused to go to work or appear for breakfast. After the facility was locked down, some 2,000 prisoners gathered in the recreation yard. Officers attacked them with tear gas. Three of the 10 prison tents caught fire.
The prisoners went on strike in 2013 to protest overflowing toilets and protested in 2012 when prison officials shut down the facility’s water for two days without providing anything to drink or usable toilets.