Protesters took to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA over the weekend to protest the facility’s detention practices.
Stewart, which houses nearly 1,900 male detainees, is owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has historically drawn flak for inhumane and self-serving detention practices. Earlier this year, a study by the Immigrant Justice Center named Stewart in one of its case studies of an immigration detention facility with especially poor conditions.
This is the ninth year in a row that protesters have demonstrated at the facility. The protest drew a crowd of nearly 1,500, and chanted “Shut down Stewart” outside the facility gates. 11 protesters were arrested for attempting to enter the facility, but were later released.
The protest was held in conjunction with a protest against School of the Americas (SOA), a U.S.-sponsored training facility for Latin American soldiers with a markedly terrible record of abuse and militarization. Several Latin American dictators and military officials were thought to have trained in torture, extortion, and political seizure through SOA.
Many of the protesters were former detainees who wanted to speak out against the injustices they experienced inside. “I think about this place every single day. It’s something that I will never forget, especially the way they treated me,” said Mario Aregullin, 26, who was detained in the facility 5 years ago for driving without a license (a common infraction for immigration applicants waiting on paperwork from USCIS). “I never committed a crime in my life, but they really made me feel like I was some sort of threat to them and I wasn’t,” he said.
In previous years, former Stewart employees have come to protests against mistreatment within the detention center. “I want to tell you that if you’ve ever had any questions on whether there’s abuse out there, as a former employee, I’m telling you, there is abuse and it’s almost daily,” Bryan Holcomb said. “And there’s a high burnout because once you get out there, what this company does to your soul, you will have to quit.” Holcomb told NPR that he witnessed riots, hunger strikes, and staff assaulting detainees during his time at Stewart.