Government Cancels Contract With Prison That Inmates Set on Fire

The decision follows years of complaints from prisoners of squalid living conditions and unresponsive staff.

Willacy County Correctional Center David Pike/AP/Valley Morning Star

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Willacy County Correctional Center, the privately run Texas prison that inmates set on fire last month to protest inadequate health care, will no longer hold federal prisoners. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has canceled its contract with the facility, it announced Monday.

Prisoners complained of overflowing sewage, excessive use of solitary confinement, and medical staff who prescribed Tylenol for every ailment.

According to a spokesman for Management & Training Corp., the company that owns the prison, the government just doesn’t need the space at Willacy anymore, thanks to a falling federal inmate population. But the contract cancelation follows years of complaints from prisoners about overflowing sewage in the tents where they slept, excessive use of solitary confinement, and medical staff who prescribed Tylenol for every ailment. The February protest was at least the second inmate uprising in two years.

“This prison has been a horror ever since it opened in 2006,” said Carl Takei, an ACLU lawyer who visited Willacy and wrote a report last year about the grim conditions there. “This is a measure of much-needed accountability.”

All 2,800 of Willacy’s inmates were moved out of the prison immediately after last month’s uprising, which left parts of the facility uninhabitable. Officials had expected to reopen the prison within six months.

The Bureau of Prisons isn’t the first federal agency to pull out of Willacy. Until 2011, the prison held people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But after reports of guard-on-inmate sexual violence and maggots in the food, ICE relocated its detainees, and Management & Training Corp. signed a contract with BOP instead.

Takei said the ACLU is concerned that instead of shutting down, Willacy will be able to secure yet another federal contract. MTC told a local newspaper that it’s working on exactly that.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate