“When first I was put into prison some people advised me to try and forget who I was. It was ruinous advice. It is only by realizing what I am that I have found comfort of any kind. Now I am advised by others to try on my release to forget that I have ever been in a prison at all. I know that would be equally fatal. It would mean that I would always be haunted by an intolerable sense of disgrace, and that those things that are meant for me as much as for anybody else - the beauty of the sun and moon, the pageant of the seasons, the music of daybreak and the silence of great nights, the rain falling through the leaves, or the dew creeping over the grass and making it silver - would all be tainted for me, and lose their healing power, and their power of communicating joy. To regret one's own experiences is to arrest one's own development. To deny one's own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one's own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.”
Posts tagged with "Prison":
The collision of private law enforcement and privately managed immigration enforcement at sites of detention is dramatically altering the landscape of migrant processing and justice—largely to the disadvantage of the detainee.
On Jan 25, President Trump issued an executive order, which, in addition to mandating the well-known “border wall,” directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “immediately construct […] facilities to detain aliens at or near the land border with Mexico,” to support increased deportations of undocumented migrants. An internal memo circulated by the administration in April called for nearly double the existing detention capacity to accommodate 80,000 detainees on any given day. Twenty-seven new locations had been scouted; 21,000 beds had already been found. With such rapid growth, decisions privilege expediency and cost over the quality of services and care for detainees.
It is highly likely that the new federal detention capacity will be met in partnership with private prison companies. Currently, 65 percent of detainees in the U.S. migrant detention system stay in private facilities run by companies (commonly for-profit) that contract with the federal government. Both commercial contractors and government vendors contributed to the search for detention spaces outlined in the April memo.
The same criticisms that apply to the private prison industry, and which led the Department of Justice (DOJ) to mandate an end to its use in August of 2016, apply to the burgeoning private detention industry. A 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) noted that a majority of migrant detention facilities were initially built for use as prisons, and that these structures impose more restrictions than necessary for the detainees. The shared typological features between prisons and detention centers flatten the important differences between criminal sentencing and migrant detention. Where the two intermingle, the distinction between legal and extralegal, private and federal, detention and incarceration is dangerously elusive.
One of the largest private detention facilities in the U.S. is the Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) in Chaparral, New Mexico. The center is part of a 15-acre site that includes the Otero County Prison Facility, which first partnered with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to hold detainees awaiting rulings in 2003. Residents of Otero County reportedly “liked the business [of migrant detention at the prison facility]—a half dollar a day per immigrant” and agreed to expand the practice, supporting the construction of a dedicated ICE detention facility, the OCPC, right next door, in 2008. Both the prison and the detention facility are operated by Management and Training Corporation (MTC), one of the nation’s largest private corrections companies.
In its early years, the OCPC was known in immigration advocacy circles as “The Hub,” due to the number of detainees who were transferred to the secluded site for processing from out-of-state. This transfer practice reportedly limits detainees’ access to community support and legal assistance otherwise available at the location of their arrest, and places them in jurisdictions known to hand down less favorable rulings.
The architecture of the OCPC clouds important distinctions between immigrant detainee and convicted prisoner to preemptively deny justice and erode the humanity of migrants.
When we visited the OCPC in June 2016, MTC employees emphasized that the center’s architecture is designed to maximize processing efficiency and prevent escape, not unlike a prison. In their language, spaces of intake manage “bodies”—not people. Walls that once ended in drop ceilings have been extended to seal completely to the roof, after speculation that a detainee could access the ceiling cavity.
Much of the staff’s experience is in criminal justice; many have spent time as correctional officers or administrators in jails and prisons before stints at the center. The distinction between civil and criminal immigration violations does not register in our discussions; staff mistakenly refers to detainees as “inmates.” The boundary between incarceration and detention on-site is fluid. The prison next door is used as a failsafe overflow center during overcrowding and operational malfunctions. When beds fill at OCPC, or the kitchen power fails, detainees are sent for up to 72 hours to the federal prison.
Other flattening abstractions permeate the space. Detainees wear color-coded uniforms, which provide a glimpse into their histories with the detention complex. Blue suits are for first-time non-violent immigration law offenders, mostly those picked up after walking across the U.S.-Mexico land border. Repeat offenders wear orange; those with violent or extensive criminal histories wear red. The center staff tells us they prefer dealing with the red population. Ironically, they are easier to manage; their criminal history is seen as an asset. Having spent time in jail, the regulated routine in the center is familiar territory, and they are more likely to comply with orders. To the detainees, as to the guards, it is all part of the same system.
Detention facilities like OCPC are specializing, taking on new roles. Our visit to the OCPC was just after a major transformation: Instead of providing long-term housing for detainees awaiting decisions on their cases, the processing center was converted into a last stop for detainees before deportation. Why? In 2015, DHS issued a report criticizing ICE transfer and deportation practices for presumed inefficiencies. ICE Air Operations (IAO), a shadow network of commercial and chartered flights that shuttles detainees domestically, had not been filling its seats. This report is likely the impetus for shifting strategy in Otero, which has become an overblown departure gate for deportation flights out of El Paso, Texas. When we visited, the typical stay at the OCPC is a mere two weeks, the daily operations consumed by the logistics of travel arrangements, rather than providing legal services and care for those detained. A chart in the offices maps out which detainees have been assigned seats on the three scheduled flights for the week, each filled to their 136-seat capacity.
Sites like Otero continue to contort themselves under changing directives, becoming autonomous islands, one-stop-shops for migrant processing and deportation. A DOJ directive began temporarily relocating federal judges to borderland detention facilities in March in an effort to speed deportation, further exacerbating questions of whether due process is respected in such off-grid locales with limited oversight. Existing teleconferencing rooms have since been repurposed to makeshift courts, while new courtroom space has been added to the OCPC. The wholesale restructuring of the space of migrant justice is just beginning. The construction of pop-up “port courts” is now proposed at ports of entry.
As the OCPC settles into its next-generation of use, it is consolidating even more security functions. Plans are underway to build a shooting range on site to support training for the detention center and prison staff. Guards will no longer need to go off-site to nearby Fort Bliss, thanks to a “bullet catcher” berm encircling the range. In December, DHS reported that private detention facilities—despite continued “documented occurrences of deficiencies and abuse”—will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future. As a stopgap, the agency suggested positioning ICE wardens at private centers to provide federal oversight and accountability.
As the sites accelerate their transformations from isolated anomalies to quasi-urban, self-sufficient nuclei of privatized federal detention, we call for immigrant advocates and legal service providers to co-opt the logic of their shadow system of airfields, courts, and fly-in judges, grafting a parallel network supporting migrant advocacy on this nascent infrastructure.
There were periods after [a] riot during which health services staffing levels failed to meet minimum contractual thresholds. Moreover, between December 2012 and September 2015, the approximately 2,300-inmate Adams County facility was staffed with only a single physician for 434 days (43 percent of the time) and a single dentist for 689 days (69 percent of the time). This resulted in inmate-to-provider ratios that were about double those specified in BOP program statements.In addition to this, the Daily News reported that eight immigrant detainees have died in the last fiscal year while in private immigration detention centers—these house 65 percent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees, so said Stringer’s office. In a statement given to the Daily News, GEO Group said: "We strongly reject the baseless claims that led to this misguided decision. We're proud of our longstanding record providing high quality services, while treating the men and women in our care with the respect and dignity they deserve." Meanwhile, John Adler, chief pension investment advisor to the mayor, commented: "Private prison companies prioritize profits over humane treatment of immigrants and inmates, and their stocks' wild price swings over the past year show the risks inherent in their business model. The Mayor supports divestment from private prisons after thorough analysis from our outside investment consultants, the City Law Department, and the Bureau of Asset Management showed that it was a prudent step for our pension funds to take."
This article appears in The Architect’s Newspaper’s April 2017 issue, which takes a deep dive into Florida to coincide with the upcoming AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando (April 27 to 29). We're publishing the issue online as the Conference approaches—click here to see the latest articles to be uploaded.
Deep in the Florida Everglades, surrounded by wildlife and natural preserves, an abandoned correctional facility has become the unlikely background for high-stakes military training operations, far from the public eye. The Hendry Correctional Institute, a former high-security state prison complex turned private training facility, is the unlikely protagonist in a new generation of military-style training scenarios.
Since 2012, the site has been run by Altair Training Solutions, a private enterprise that rents out the facility and provides training to clients across a spectrum of military, private, and security interests. Site organizers capitalize on the facility’s protective architecture, and its layers of security infrastructure left over from its prison days, to inject realism in simulated missions for special operations forces, law enforcement agencies, and weekend hobbyists.
The site signals a shift in what we might think of as “adaptive reuse” in a niche market of the newly securitized economy. Instead of repurposing an abandoned warehouse or a dilapidated factory into lofts or retail space, the scheme here was to reinvigorate a vast area on the urban scale—including 1,150 surrounding acres, a nearby county correctional facility, two hotels, houses, dining halls, a research and development facility, long and short shooting ranges, shoot houses, and a 3,800-foot-long private airstrip. Instead of targeting traditional market forces, the land-grab speculation hinges on the presumed insatiable and continued interest of militarized forces in the kind of free-rein, live-fire, no-holds-barred urban expeditions that only an underused, remote, and built-up site allows.
Such sites have long been objects of desire for the U.S. armed forces, which see them as ready-made approximations of emerging theaters of operations—stand-ins for the streets, markets, and central business districts of hostile cities a world away. The RAND Corporation identified abandoned towns as future training gold mines in the mid-2000s. The U.S. military has, in recent years, used existing—and sometimes inhabited—domestic cities to add realism to their training regimens. But this site was identified and purchased by private citizens (albeit former-military), and was initially supported by public tax incentives (a package the State of Florida called Project Assassin, which was later rescinded). The newly reimagined facility opens its doors to the untrained hobbyist and gun enthusiast. Public programming requires no military training or law-enforcement credentials—passing a criminal background check and paying the entry fee gains entry to select courses. In one recent example, students from every walk of life spent a Saturday learning to shoot targets near the former prison law library from hovering helicopters. This is a mom-and-pop shop for street-front shoot-’em-ups. This is amateur hour. And it may only be the beginning, a model for the private security urbanism to come.
To better understand the draw of the site, one must understand remoteness as a fundamental asset of the new private security urbanism. The state has historically invested in remote areas for detention purposes, using distance from populated centers as a buffer. Built in 1977 to be intentionally surrounded by uninhabited wilderness, the facility had been deteriorating for decades. The required public funding for renovations and remote access had become a burden to the State of Florida. The once-desired remoteness proved to only expedite the prison’s eventual demise, but later offered an opportunity for other uses—allowing for the type of training other non-remote sites cannot.
The details of the training contracts are confidential, but one can imagine the series of exfiltration and other tactical operations that this type of location affords. As other military installations are spending money to faithfully recreate every physical nuance of projected intervention sites from scratch, Altair comes ready-made with a bona fide architecture of imprisonment. The former prison and its buildings, no longer capable of sustaining prior instantiations of security, are now seen as “up for grabs”—a kind of marketable good, repurposed to the whims of the new securocratic order.
It takes a mind with a particular type of calculus to understand the high value of civic remnants in the oncoming era. While the standard of real estate development speculation looks for new density and economic growth opportunities, these alternative post-urban investment schemes search for forgotten ghost spaces, where remoteness and absence of human inhabitation are the prized components. Given the rampant privatization of the prison-industrial complex, abandoned state prisons could soon be a boon to the speculative rehabber of disused security infrastructure. The architecture of incarceration is offered as a stage set, perpetuating its imagined use.
New York City has always been better than Rikers Island. I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality. Our success in reducing crime and reforming our criminal justice system has paved a path off Rikers Island and toward community-based facilities capable of meeting our criminal justice goals. There is no doubt that the road to Rikers Island’s closure will be long and arduous. It will require that local officials and stakeholders stand up and support facilities that meet our moral obligation to thousands of New Yorkers whose lives we will never turn our backs on. It will require that our state government, and each component of our criminal justice system, contribute to the reform efforts critical to reducing our jail population and improving re-entry services and educational programming. The length of this process will also require continued investment in the facilities and conditions on Rikers Island that remain key to rehabilitation efforts for thousands of New Yorkers in the years ahead. This moment would not be possible without the work of Speaker Mark-Viverito, who has helped fuel the progress toward a more just criminal justice system.
This post is part of our years-long running Eavesdrop series (think page 6 for the architectural field). It’s your best source for gossip, insider stories, and more. Have an eavesdrop of your own? Send it to: eavesdrop[at]archpaper.com.
The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) announced last winter that architect Frank Gehry would be teaching one of the school’s elective vertical studios for the spring 2017 semester. According to an image promoting the studio on the university’s Instagram, the studio is titled “The Future of Prison” and “calls on emerging architects to break free of current conventions and re-imagine what we now refer to as ‘prison’ for a new era.”
Could Gehry and his students re-imagine the carceral system the way his firm did with tourist-driven arts destinations? Perhaps the class could propose new designs for the Metropolitan Detention Center in Downtown Los Angeles, the 757-bed jail located just one mile from the SCI-Arc campus. The jail is due to be replaced sometime between 2027 and 2030 under the auspices of the city’s new Civic Center Master Plan. If rebuilt elsewhere, planners would be wise to look to Gehry’s SCI-Arc studio for ideas and inspiration.