Part 8 of 11 parts.
Serving time in prison is not supposed to be pleasant. Nor, however, is it supposed to include being raped by fellow prisoners or staff, beaten by guards for the slightest provocation, driven mad by long-term solitary confinement, or killed off by medical neglect. These are the fates of thousands of prisoners every year—men, women, and children housed in lockups that give Gitmo and Abu Ghraib a run for their money.
While there's plenty of blame to go around, and while not all of the facilities described in this series have all of the problems we explore, some stand out as particularly bad actors. We've compiled this subjective list of America's 10 worst lockups (plus a handful of dishonorable mentions) based on three years of research, correspondence with prisoners, and interviews with criminal-justice reform advocates concerning the penal facilities with the grimmest claims to infamy. We will roll out the remaining contenders in the coming days, complete with photos and video. Number 8 on our list is a corporate-managed Texas facility where Tylenol apparently passes for significant medical treatment.
Reeves County Detention Complex (Pecos, Texas)
Number of prisoners: ~3,750
Who's in charge: Dwight Sims, (former) warden; George Zoley, CEO, the GEO Group; Matthew Nace, Chief, BOP Acquisitions Branch
The basics: Reeves houses so-called criminal aliens, held for various types of nonviolent violations—some three-quarters of them are held there merely for entering the country without permission. Like thousands of other migrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), they have been placed in the hands of a private prison company under contract with the Bureau of Prisons. The GEO Group, which operates Reeves, proudly declares itself "the largest detention/correctional facility under private management in the world."
Overcrowded and understaffed, Reeves has a reputation for horrifically inadequate medical care. In 2008, an epileptic 32-year-old detainee named Jesus Manuel Galindo died of a seizure in his solitary confinement cell. His death, on the heels of at least four others at Reeves over the previous two years, followed repeated pleas from Galindo, his family, and fellow inmates to provide him with effective medication—the prison medical staff only offered him Tylenol—and to move him out of isolation so he could get help quickly when he had seizures.
The sight of Galindo's body being carried out of the prison in what appeared to be a plastic garbage bag sparked the first of several riots in which detainees took hostages and set fire to parts of the mammoth detention complex.