Winn Correctional Center, Winn Parish, Louisiana
December 3, 2019
Asylum seekers inside Winn Correctional Center (WCC) refused to move back to their cells in a protest over their prolonged detention, some having spent over 8 months awaiting parole. Yuritza Rivera, the wife of a Cuban asylum seeker who is currently inside WCC, got word that detainees were protesting in the prison yard and refusing to go inside. Detainees had sheets and towels, some inscribed with messages, including “Libertad.” In response, guards deployed pepper spray upon a group of fifty detainees, ending the protest.
Detainees say they’re being held for unreasonably long periods with no word of court dates or a chance to request their release even after passing an initial screening that determines that they have a viable asylum claim.
In addition, WCC is located hours away from any big cities or towns, making it hard for most people to have visitors and easy access to legal aid.
“Just the fact that you’re detaining people in such rural, isolated places makes it not only difficult for the person themselves to fight their case, but it even makes it nearly impossible for them to get attorneys to represent them,” said Homero López, executive director of the New Orleans-based Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy.
WCC is one of eight private detention centers in Louisiana that have started housing asylum seekers in the last year. WCC is privately run by LaSalle Corrections through a contract with ICE. The contract with LaSalle is part of ICE’s recent cost-cutting strategy: normally, ICE pays $133 a day to house one detainee at a federally run facility, but at WCC, it’s $70 a day.
Out of the 51,000 detainees nationally, Louisiana houses 8,000. Most of the facilities are a mix of old state prisons and jails. The surge of detainees comes both as criminal justice reforms in Louisiana have reduced the states prisoner population and the tougher immigration policies of the Trump administration has led to a surge in detained migrants.
The decline in prisoner population has threatened the small town economies that are dependent on the money generated by jails and prisons. The local towns around WCC are no different. Sheriff Cranford Jordan, in the nearby town of Winnfield, LA says that aside from lumber, the area’s two biggest job engines are schools and the prison. A decline in prison population could eventually have led to the prison closing, Jordan said. “It would be devastating,” he said. “You’d see people moving, bankruptcy. It would be like an automobile plant closing.”
In May 2019, Sheriff Cranford Jordan, LaSalle Correctional and ICE all agreed to a five year contract, turning WCC into a detention center.
“Asylum seekers protest at ICE jail in Louisiana“, KSLA, December 3rd, 2019
“ICE confirms officers in Louisiana jail pepper-sprayed protesting migrants“, PBS, December 4th, 2019
“Louisiana becomes new hub for immigrant detention under Trump“, PBS, October 9th, 2019
Article published: December 5, 2019
Header photo source: KALB.com