Policing

Never Again RI brings battle against The Wyatt to the House floor

“While our elected officials chose to ignore the Wyatt Detention Center, it tripled its population of ICE detainees – from 34 to over 100 in June alone – and is poised to further expand its population,” writes Never Again RI in a statement. “Never Again Action Rhode Island is committed to making it impossible for legislators to ignore their moral obligation to end the practice of ICE detention in our state.”
Photo for Never Again RI brings battle against The Wyatt to the House floor

Published on June 30, 2021
By Steve Ahlquist

Activists unfurled a banner on the floor of the Rhode Island House of Representatives that read “Never Again is Now” on Tuesday. The activists from Never Again Rhode Island are demanding that the House pass three bills – H5749, H5776, and H5750 – with the aim of shutting down the Wyatt Detention Center. According to Sasha Berkoff, an organizer with Never Again RI, the activists arrived at the Rhode Island State House around the time a fire alarm cleared the building. This provided a unique opportunity for the artists, who were able to approached legislators, hand them flyers, and advocate for the passage of the bills. After the alarm was cleared, everyone re-entered the building. The banner was unfurled, photos were taken and the activists were asked to leave the House Chamber, which they did.

Never Again RI has been advocating against the Wyatt, a private for profit prison in Central Falls, Rhode Island organized under a thin legal veneer of being a publicly accountable non-profit facility, for years. In March 2019 it was learned that the Wyatt would once again be accepting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees under the Trump Administration’s Southwest Border Zero Tolerance Initiative. The facility had been denied ICE contracts in the past due to the death of Jason Ng, an immigration detainee who died tragically while in Wyatt custody in 2008.

The battle to stop the Wyatt from participating on resulted in protests led by AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance), The Fang Collective and Never Again Action RI. At one such protest a prison guard drove his truck into a line of protesters, injuring several, and Wyatt Correctional Officers stormed into the protesters using pepper spray and violence against them. No charges were brought by Attorney General Peter Neronha for these assaults.

The bills introduced in the House by Joshua Giraldo (Democrat, District 56, Central Falls) would go a long way towards shutting down Wyatt’s operations in Rhode Island. Companion legislation has been submitted in the Senate by Senator Jonathan Acosta (Democrat, District 16, Central Falls).

  • H5749 / S0399 would repeal the Municipal Detention Facility Corporations law and prohibit the operation of private detention facilities and private public partnerships within the state. Those currently in operation, such as the Wyatt, could continue to do so until December 31, 2028.
  • H5750S0400 would prohibit contracts with private, for-profit prison facilities or with ICE.
  • H5751S0394) would provide for a safety inspection of the Wyatt Detention Facility twice a year.

All the bills were heard in committee and “held for further study” meaning they have staggered off into legislative limbo with little hope of being voted on in committee or on the floor as the 2021 legislative session draws to a close. This, as the ICE detainee population has more than tripled in June, from 31 detainees on June 3 to 102 detainees as of June 28 – with the potential to expand even more.

“While our elected officials chose to ignore the Wyatt Detention Center, it tripled its population of ICE detainees – from 34 to over 100 in June alone – and is poised to further expand its population,” writes Never Again RI in a statement. “Never Again Action Rhode Island is committed to making it impossible for legislators to ignore their moral obligation to end the practice of ICE detention in our state.”

Thank you to Katherine Coumes for the photo.


UpriseRI has written extensively about the Wyatt, the ICE Detainees and community efforts to shut the prison down:

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