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ACLU Asks Justice Department to Investigate Texas Prison Riot

Caleb Bryant Miller/KUT News
The ACLU is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into last month's riot at a prison in Raymondville.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate last month's riot at a private immigrant prison in Raymondville, Tex. That's because the ACLU does not believe the prison is able to do a good job investigating itself.

When the riot broke out a couple of weeks ago at the Willacy County Correctional Center, the cameras of KGBT Action 4 News in Harlingen captured the scenes: Dozens of immigrant inmates can be seen violently shaking the barbed-wire fences behind them as the tents that housed them were burning.

ACLU Attorney Carl Takei saw the whole thing on TV and got worried. He says the Management and Training Corporation (MTC), the company that runs the prison, has a track record of sweeping things under the rug. In particular, he remembers a similar riot that broke out in Mississippi.

"Dozens of prisoners were injured and many were hospitalized," says Takei. MTC led its own investigations and reported to a court monitor that incidents of violence had significantly decreased during the month the riot broke. But Takei says MTC "manipulated the statistics to minimize the impact of the riot. They counted the entire riot as a single incident of assault."

That's why this time around the ACLU formally asked the Department of Justice to conduct an independent investigation into the conditions that led immigrant inmates to burn down the Willacy County Correctional Center. The letter went out to the DOJ this week.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.