Hanky-panky or sexual assault?

An investigation into an alleged assault of a detainee at Texas' Hutto prison turns into an "official misconduct" inquiry.

Published May 31, 2007 10:30PM (EDT)

There's word that more trouble is brewing at America's own li'l kiddy prison in Texas. The T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility, a prison that has been "transformed" into holding cells for hundreds of immigrant women and their children (some of whom are U.S. citizens), has been critiqued here and elsewhere for imprisoning innocent children, operating without oversight, licensing or regulations, and, last month, preventing a United Nations inspector from touring the facility. Now, according to the Austin Chronicle, a case of "inappropriate conduct" between a guard and an inmate is making outsiders question just what the hell is going on in this facility run by for-profit company Corrections Corporation of America.

According to the Austin Chronicle, the alleged incident, which took place on May 19, was initially treated as a sexual assault. The local police enforcement from Taylor was called in to "report a possible assault upon an inmate." When told that Hutto's jurisdiction fell under the authority of the Williamson County sheriff's office, the police officer left the facility after four Williamson deputies arrived. The first reports called the incident an "assault" and showed that the detainee had been transported to a medical center. Then the story changed: After an investigation, the sheriff's officers labeled the incident "official misconduct." Perhaps what's most troubling is that the county decided that the conduct didn't "fall under any local or state laws," so that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would take over the matter. The accused officer has been fired, but his name hasn't been released, nor have criminal charges been filed.

Of course, just because an investigation of a sexual assault was relabeled as consensual, if inappropriate, conduct, doesn't mean there's a coverup. But Hutto's refusal to allow U.N. inspector Jorge Bustamante to get inside the facility, coupled with egregious reports from released inmates, makes it hard to deny that Hutto's henchmen may have been tempted to spin a case of sexual assault into something less damning. Even if the incident was "consensual," it's still illegal! Under federal law sex between a guard and an inmate is a misdemeanor; under Texas (and many other states') law, it's a felony.

Of course, according to ICE, those at Hutto aren't really inmates, they're just families getting free housing on the federal dime!

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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