In a stunning example of the logic of private prisons that put profit first, children held in a private detention center for migrants and refugees have lost the privilege of playing with crayons after staff complained that they were damaging property, The Guardian reported Thursday.
The detention center in Karnes, Texas is run by GEO Group, a private security company that has reportedly earned US$ 57 million from running the detention center. It is one of three facilities that holds both mothers and children.
A spokesperson from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES), which provides legal support to detained migrants, said the children allegedly caused the damage to tables while their mothers were being given legal advice.
In email correspondence shown to the Guardian, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) staff confirmed that ban was “an action resulting from crayons which RAICES staff/volunteers have given children which has caused property damage to the contractor.”
A spokesperson for the GEO group said the ban only applies to children playing in the visitor's area.
Barbara Hines, a RAICES member, called the reaction “inappropriate” and “disproportionate.”
“It is extremely disturbing that ICE’s concern for GEO’s property takes precedence over the well-being of the children and their mothers’ rights to legal advice,” wrote Hines.
A landmark investigation by Shane Bauer for Mother Jones that saw the reporter spend four months as a worker inside a private prison revealed that private centers place profit above all else, often at the expense of the conditions of those under detention.
The ban on crayons is likely motivated by the cost of having to clean or replace the tables with crayon markings.
One mother detained at the Karnes facility told The Guardian in an emailed statement that the ban makes it difficult for her to receive the legal advice she so sorely needs.
“They are too young to read and if they just play can get too rowdy. We don’t always want them with us because some of the things we share we don’t want them to hear,” the mother told The Guardian.
Controversy has swelled around the Karnes facility for years, with widespread allegations of sexual abuse and harsh conditions.
Shares of the GEO group jumped after Donald Trump was elected president of the United States due to his campaign rhetoric calling for action against non-status migrants.
More detentions and deportations under Trump will likely lead to an expanded use of private prisons and detention centers.