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Churches: No Private Prison For Immigrants In WV

January 12, 2010

CHARLESTON, WV - West Virginia's largest church group has asked U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd and the rest of the state's congressional delegation to oppose funding a private prison for undocumented immigrants in Pendleton County near the Virginia border. The Council of Churches is one of several groups discussing immigration reform ahead of expected congressional action on the issue. The Council has asked federal lawmakers' help in the effort, arguing private prison operations have been rife with abuse. GSI Professional Corrections is seeking county commission approval to build the detention center near Sugar Grove to house 1,000 nonviolent immigrant detainees awaiting possible deportation.

Rev. Dennis Sparks, the Council's executive director, complains private prisons operate outside the mainstream legal system. Young people have been trapped in them unprotected, he says, simply for being members of undocumented families, even if they were born in the U.S.

"There have been a lot of abuses of children in these facilities: no way to communicate adequately, no way to get legal protection or representation. So, they're stuck."

GSI Corrections has said the prison would create 300 jobs, but Sparks sees private prisons as a bad idea in general. In other places, he adds, the jobs have not materialized.

"There's no way to really regulate them, either by the state or by the federal government. There's no due process. All the evidence we've seen is that they do not create jobs."

The detention system would be more productive if nonviolent workers were held on work-release programs while their immigration cases are decided, Sparks says.

"These folks are an economic contribution to our society. They can bring a lot to us, and I think that's the way we've got to look at it."

Congress will soon begin considering comprehensive immigration reform at the request of the White House.
Backers of incarcerating undocumented workers say they have broken the law by being in the country without permission and should be treated as criminals. Sparks says the entire system is broken and changes must be addressed.

Several West Virginia advocacy groups will hold a press conference today at 2:30 p.m. in room 330 of the State Capitol's West Wing. It is one of 100 events taking place around the country on the upcoming immigration reform effort.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV