Off the Backs & Uteruses of Migrants

Clay McConnell and his daddy Billy are preachers. They wear or carry crucifixes and if you don’t yet consider yourself saved they will explain John 3:16 to you and how you, too, can be washed in the Blood.

They are also on the receiving end of a $7 million lawsuit. Hardly their first. The family company they run has been the subject of many lawsuits, however, the settlements of those lawsuits are rarely disclosed.

The McConnells run one of Louisiana’s largest private prison and ICE detention businesses. According to ACLU under the Trump administration, 80% of detained immigrants were held in facilities that are privately owned, groups like Lasalle and GEO. Under the Biden administration that number shot up to over 90%. In 2022, Congress allocated nearly $3 billion to hold migrants in ICE detention centers. More than Jesus, get rich schemes are the primary motivating factor behind such for-profit prisons.

Private companies are not subject to the same rules of disclosure that public entities are held to, so whatever abuse going on inside these detention centers and prisons is often only made known in lawsuits. But when those lawsuits are settled outside a courtroom, they most often include a non-disclosure agreement, thus ensuring that such abuses continue unabated.

The more everything changes the more predictable corrupt people become. According to an investigation by the Times-Picayune Clay McConnell makes it clear that his family is in this business for the money.

When a prison-building boom swept north Louisiana in the 1990s, Billy McConnell got in on the financing and construction ends. Then he thought, why not run the prisons, too? He already ran nursing homes, and the bottom line was the same. His experience feeding and housing old folks could be applied to keeping drug pushers and petty thieves behind bars.

“We realized that prisons are like nursing homes. You need occupancy to be high. You have to treat people fairly and run a good ship, but run it like a business, watch food costs, employee costs,” said Clay McConnell, 37.

To that point of treating people fairly, it was Lasalle’s abuse of detainees that led to that $7 million settlement. An investigation determined that:

“LaSalle employees falsified jail records, failed to complete training courses, lied about those courses, beat prisoners or denied them medications, while also avoiding mandatory reporting of in-custody deaths by releasing prisoners to hospitals or families just before they died. Other investigations determined that LaSalle staff unnecessarily exposed some 7,000 prisoners and detainees to the virus that causes COVID-19 at nine Louisiana jails or prisons the company operated. LaSalle also operated a “filthy” detention center in Georgia where immigration detainees were allegedly subjected to unwanted hysterectomies.”

Dawn Wooten was a nurse working at the Lasalle-owned/run ICE Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, when she made headlines as a whistleblower. Wooten reported that migrants were being subjected to a ghastly amount of uterine surgeries. Surgeries in which they were undergoing hysterectomies without their knowledge or consent. Wooten and the migrants and human rights groups have filed lawsuit against Lasalle and the detention center.

 “It is clear that excessive and unnecessary gynecological procedures led to sterilization or damaged reproductive health on numerous detainees, all without their informed consent. For those who have suffered such traumatic experiences, the precise medical terminology used to describe the invasive surgeries performed on their uterus—especially given that the women so often didn’t even know what procedure the doctor was performing—is cold comfort,” said Dana Gold, senior counsel for the Government Accountability Project.

As I mention in No Perfect Mothers, it was Dawn Wooten’s speaking up on behalf of these migrant women that first drew me to the story of Carrie Buck. I’ll talk further about all that Thursday at Paulina Springs Bookshop in Sisters, Oregon, and again Friday at The Next Chapter Bookstore in Hermiston.

If you have read No Perfect Mothers, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or any other sites. These really do help authors. Thank you.

Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

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