RAYMONDVILLE, Texas (AP) — Inmates who set fires and caused significant damage to a South Texas prison after taking over part of the facility last month orchestrated the uprising to get a transfer and affect where they would be deported, the private contractor operating the facility said Monday.
The inmates at the prison were primarily "low-level" offenders who were in the U.S. illegally. A small group of prisoners instigated the Feb. 20 uprising at Willacy County Correctional Center because they feared for their safety when released and wanted to be let go in a different part of Mexico, said Issa Arnita, spokesman for the Utah-based Management & Training Corp., which runs the prison for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Because of extensive damage to plumbing and heating and cooling systems, all 2,834 inmates at the prison were relocated to other facilities around Texas.
Arnita said in a statement Monday that inmates told investigators that the prisoners planned to cause significant damage to the housing areas and that the uprising was "formulated well in advance" as a way to force a transfer. That contradicts initial reports by MTC that the uprising was started after inmates complained about prison conditions, particularly medical care. Arnita said inadequate medical care was used as a pretext for the disturbance.
A report last year by the American Civil Liberties Union described the large Kevlar tents that make up the facility as overcrowded and inhumane, with instances of overflowing toilets and sewage that seeps into sleeping areas. The report said inmates reported their medical concerns were often ignored by staff and that corners were often cut when it came to inmates' health care.
But Arnita said in his statement that inmate surveys show they were satisfied with their medical care. The health services at the prison were accredited by independent organizations and audited by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which contracts with MTC to run the facility, he said.
Arnita said that only 50 of the 400 people who worked at the prison will remain employed with MTC. The rest are being laid off.