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Media Was MIA As Hundreds of Undocumented Inmates Protested CCA Prison Conditions

On Wednesday, March 27, hundreds of inmates at the Cibola County Correctional Center in Milan, New Mexico, engaged in a peaceful demonstration against poor treatment. Somewhere between 250 to 500 prisoners refused to leave the recreation yard in a demonstration that lasted for over 12 hours.

The Center, which houses over 1,100 minimum-security federal prisoners (all male), is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for profit system. CCA facilities are notorious for rampant human rights abuses, not exactly shocking for a company whose sole purpose is to profit from off of locking human beings in cages. 

Media Fail

As of this writing, a Google News search of “Cibola County Correctional Center” results in just six news stories, all from local outlets. And all six of them read like a press release written by CCA.

Protesting is a risky endeavor for prisoners. It practically gaurantees retaliation from prison staff and more likely than not nothing will change. So it’s highly unlikely that prisoners went into this for no reason. Nevertheless, the authorities repeatedly claimed not to know why the prisoners were protesting and the local outlets shamefully trumpeted what was obviously CCA’s carefully crafted narrative.

“Public Information Officer Stephen Brown said they still were not able to found out why the inmates were protesting,” KOB Eyewitness News 4 reported. But as far as I can tell, News 4 made no attempt to speak with inmates or their advocates. Instead, they spoke with the parents of corrections officers inside the facility for added insight.

In an update, News 4 assured it’s readers that it was “still pressing for answers on why hundreds of inmates protested.” But don’t get too excited because the outlet spent the rest of the segment speaking with residents who live nearby the facility.

Action 7 News not only quoted the same couple that appeared in News 4‘s report, but also spoke with the mother of yet another prison guard. As for why there was a protest, Action 7 said the authorities were still investigating (move along, nothing else to see here).

The Cibola Beacon-News was the only outlet that spoke with anyone besides the prison authorities, but it had nothing to do with extra work on their part. “[T]he Beacon did receive an anonymous call early Wednesday about a possible demonstration because inmates claimed they were being treated unfairly. No specifics of mistreatment were provided by the caller,” the Beacon reported.

Undocumented Immigrants

None of these outlets even bothered to mention that Cibola Correctional is one of 13 privately-owned prisons contracted out by the federal government to meet the prison system’s so-called “criminal alien requirements.” It doesn’t take that much digging to figure it out. Even CCA notes that “All offenders at Cibola…are illegal immigrants.” This should immediately raise red flags given the laundry list of documented horrors that have taken place at privately-run immigrant detention centers.

CAR facilities were created around 2000 to house undocumented immigrants convicted of felonies, though more often than not these are petty, nonviolent crimes as well as offenses upgraded to felony, such as reentry (reentering the county illegally).

Last year, Justice Strategies released a damning report about these facilities, titled, “Privately Operated Federal Prisons for Immigrants: Expensive, Unsafe, Unnecessary“, which lays out the substandard conditions in these for-profit prisons.

As the owner of several CAR prisons, CCA is no stranger to accusations of mistreatment.

Last year, a riot erupted at Adams County Correctional Center, a CCA-owned CAR prison in Mississippi. Several were injured and one prison guard was killed. CCA told the media that gang violence was to blame but it was later revealed that the it was a protest against abusive conditions that got out of control.

Another CCA-owned car facility, Eden Detention Center in Texas, broke out in a riot in 2010. “The number of inmates at the detention center, according to census estimates from 2008, exceeds by about 200 the general population in Eden,” reported the San Angelo Times.

The pattern of cost-cutting, negligence and abuse at CCA-owned prisons goes back even further, but that would take more paragraphs than you’re probably willing to read. The important thing to take away is that last week wasn’t the first time inmates at a CCA-owned CAR prison demonstrated against mistreatment.

In fact, it wasn’t even the first protest at Cibola. In April of 2001, some 700 Cibola prisoners staged an identical day-long protest in the recreation yard, which ended with guards firing tear gas to force inmates inside. Back then, the authorities said they didn’t know why the prisoners were protesting (sound familiar), a claim the media dutifully reported. Apparently, very little has changed.

Inmates Seen as Sub-human

Several local residents left several nasty comments on the Beacon-News Facebook page, highlighting the hatred Cibola inmates are surrounded by.

John P. Gonzalez wants the authorities to spray the inmates down with a fire hose.

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Teri Esquivel-Placencia suggests sending the protesting inmates to Joe Arpaio’s Arizona prison, known nationwide for its racist and brutally abusive treatment of prisoners.

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Colton Baca left a highly disturbing comment about wanting to “gas them”, which implies that he works as a guard at the prison in question.

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Joseph Apodaca, who is a correctional officer at the state-run Western New Mexico Correctional Facility according to his profile, also suggested tear gassing the inmates.

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Though prisoners are generally seen as sub-human in the eyes of many Americans, the comments reflected an added hatred stemming from bigotry and xenophobia, such as this comment by Thomas Council:

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Other commenters showed a complete lack of understanding about who these particular prisoners are suggesting that the inmates deserved to be mistreated because they were paying for committing crimes like drive-by shootings and assaulting elderly women, when in reality many of the inmates are imprisoned for minor, nonviolent offenses.

Meanwhile, the prisoners at Cibola are almost certainly facing painful retaliation for their disobedience. And the media seems to have already moved on.

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9 Comments
  1. Micah #

    :/

    April 1, 2013
  2. I have a love one there this makes me sick.. Lets not forget we live in a nation under God we were all created equally they are not only inmates but they have a family who loves them they are not animals!!!!! animals are the people who treat them like they are and they are not alone they have a voice they are humans with as much rights as anyone else in this country.

    April 1, 2013
    • Thanks for your response, Xochitl,

      Can you tell me what specific intolerable or illegal conditions the inmates were protesting?

      I’m a very well known anti-private prison activist.

      April 8, 2013
  3. OK, I give up. What were they protesting? I know they take this path as the last resort because they’ll get into such trouble. So what was worth this trouble? prisongrievnaces.com @prisongrievance

    April 10, 2013
  4. We appreciate you for publishing articles such as these to help keep education.
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    May 19, 2013

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