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Two Months, Two Prison Riots

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February 5, 2009

"Prison riots are relatively rare occurrences" reads a letter sent today to Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine by the ACLU's National Prison Project (NPP) and the ACLU of Texas. So two riots in a two-month period at the Reeves County Detention Center (RCDC) in Pecos, Texas is a lot.

The first riot in mid-December followed the death of a prisoner—rioters demanded adequate medical care and food. Similar demands were made at the second riot January 31. The letter details the second riot:

The disturbance involved buildings that house more than 2,000 prisoners and was not brought under control until the afternoon of February 1. GEO Group, Inc., the private prison company that operates RCDC, reports that no injuries occurred during the riot, but the Reeves County Sheriff's Office counters that at least three prisoners were hospitalized, one with a severed finger…Thousands of prisoners were forced to sleep outside on the prison yard in the days after the riot was brought under control, and hundreds still remain on the yard. According to the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, prisoners on the yard have only been fed once a day and have had extremely limited access to water and toilets.

The NPP is asking IG Fine to investigate prisoners' complaints about the conditions at RCDC. An immediate investigation is necessary not just because of the recent riots but also because of the pattern of problems at RCDC that date as far back as 2006. It was then that investigators from the Office of Inspector General's (OIG) El Paso Field Office looked into problems at the facility, and ended up arresting five contract officers. In a 2006 report to Congress, the OIG said that officers were having sex with prisoners, they were accepting money from prisoners in exchange for providing them with drugs, and they were smuggling contraband into the facility.

Clearly the OIG can't play dumb — their own reports show they've known for years that RCDC is a mess. The time has long since come for them to clean it up.

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