Juan Lopez-Fuentes became the first inmate to be sentenced for a riot that rattled a Mississippi federal prison in May. Lopez-Fuentes was sentenced in federal court yesterday to 40 months in prison and $1.3 million in restitution, the Natchez Democrat reports.
The riot in the Adams County Correction Facility, a privately operated federal prison for immigrants convicted of crimes, left one prison guard dead. Inmates in the facility said they were revolting against abusive prison conditions at the hands of guards employed by the Corrections Corporation of America, the country’s largest prison company.
At 5 p.m. on Sunday evening, an inmate reportedly phoned a local TV station with a cell phone, sending photos to confirm that he was indeed held inside the facility.
“They always beat us and hit us,” the prisoner told the local reporter. “We just pay them back. We’re trying to get better food, medical (care), programs, clothes, and we’re trying to get some respect from the officers and lieutenants.”
Two other men have been charged for allegedly participating in the riot. Yoany Oriel Serrano-Bejarano pleaded not guilty in October. A jury trial has been set for next month. Pedro Gonzalez De Los Reyes was charged this month for his part in the riot. He has yet to be arraigned.
Lopez-Fuentes pleaded guilty in August to taking part in the riot. In a complaint filed by the federal government in August, Lopez-Fuentes was alleged to be “an active participant in the riot and appeared to be in charge of the inmates involved in the standoff.” The complaint goes on to describe Lopez-Fuentes as a negotiator, wielding power over inmates and hostages and forcing hostages to act as intermediaries in negotiations between inmates and guards.
The riot left 24-year old prison guard Catlin Carithers dead and several other guards injured.
Family members and advocates in touch with inmates in the prison say that conditions inside the facility were also deadly for inmates. In May and then again in September, I reported on a man named Juan Villanueva whose sister says he’s still be alive had Adams prison officials adequately responded to rapidly spreading cancer:
According to his sister [Angelica Moreno], Villanueva’s illness was ignored for months while locked up in Adams County and his condition deteriorated. “They killed my brother,” she said. Moreno says her brother was prescribed repeated doses of antibiotics even after he complained of pain and was regularly vomiting blood. When months later he was finally taken to an emergency room and diagnosed with cancer, his illness had advanced significantly, but still the prison failed to transport Villanueva to all of his chemotherapy appointments, according to Moreno.
Just before the Adams facility erupted into violence in May, Villanueva was moved to a North Carolina medical facility where two months later he died. His body was flown to Los Angeles, where his family held a funeral.
The Adams County facility is one of a dozen similar private prisons for non-citizens convicted of crimes. As I reported in September:
“Many of the inmates are charged criminally for what’s called “illegal reentry” when they’re picked up by Border Patrol trying to return to the country after a previous deportation. The facilities are among the only ones that the Bureau of Prisons has privatized and their expansion promises more profits for companies, like the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs the Adams County Correctional Center where Moreno’s brother was held.
The federal government anticipates the facilities will continue to expand for at least the next eight years:
Despite this track record or neglect and violence, the federal government plans to expand the incarceration of non-citizens in private facilities. A report released on Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office revealed that the BOP projects it will add an 1500 CAR inmates every year until 2020, which will expand the population in these federal facilities to nearly 36,000. The GAO notes that the Board of Prisons annual projections are conservative and “therefore, the actual number of inmates would likely be higher than the projections.”