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UPDATE: Sick on the inside: Behind bars in immigrant-only prisons

In light of the news that the U.S. Department of Justice will end its use of private prisons, we're revisiting an hour of Reveal that investigates medical negligence in the private prison system for immigrants.
Anna Vignet
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Recently, we got some big news: The Department of Justice will end its use of private prisons. This means that about a dozen prisons – housing about 22,000 inmates – will be shut down. It's the biggest announcement in the history of private federal prisons.

In light of this news, we're revisiting an hour of Reveal that investigates medical negligence in these prisons, which for the most part hold immigrants convicted of federal crimes. And in a new segment, we learn about the roadblocks prison regulators encountered when they tried to fix the problems.


Medical negligence in immigrant prisons

For years, advocates have raised questions about medical care inside private federal prisons for noncitizens, especially in the wake of riots that inmates said were in response to medical negligence.

In this segment, Investigative Fund reporter Seth Freed Wessler exposes the truth behind those complaints. After obtaining extensive medical files, he documented case after case in which lower standards and underqualified staff made decisions that led to disasters.

Relying on those files and the testimony of inmates and prison workers, Reveal's Stan Alcorn and Wessler tell the story of one of those medical disasters: the case of Nestor Garay.


New segment: What the Bureau of Prisons knew

Six months after we first aired this investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice ordered the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reduce and eventually end its use of privately run facilities. Until now, the bureau has given these companies a long leash, despite a pattern of providing shoddy health care for inmates. And as Investigative Fund reporter Seth Freed Wessler has uncovered in a new investigation, it wasn’t because the agency was unaware of the problems.

He got 20,000 new pages of documents that show the Bureau of Prisons knew for years about serious medical failures in its private prisons: substandard infectious disease care and inadequate health staffing and emergency response. The bureau’s internal reports even identified 34 inmates who died after getting substandard care. We follow as Wessler heads to the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Mississippi, to find out why these problems were allowed to continue for so long.


When crossing the border is a federal crime

While politicians debate border security, criminal charges for crossing the border have been increasing steadily for decades. More people are prosecuted for immigration-related federal crimes than for all other categories combined – white-collar crime, drugs, weapons, etc. 

This segment explains how these prosecutions work and why they are so prevalent through the story of one man, tracked down by Investigative Fund reporter Seth Freed Wessler.

Eloy Flores ended up incarcerated at a private prison in Big Spring, Texas, but he got there through a circuitous journey that included a courtroom proceeding that is like nothing you've heard before.

Through interviews and exclusive audio obtained from the U.S. district court, Reveal's Stan Alcorn tells the story of Flores and his family.

By Julia B. Chan, Reveal

Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. For more, check out   and subscribe to their  podcast . 

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