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Protesters return to Wyatt; prison board delays controversial vote

Blackstone Valley

CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — After protesters derailed last week’s discussion, the Wyatt Detention Center’s board of directors decided to further put off a vote involving the prison’s controversial contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The board was set to vote on an updated forbearance agreement with the facility’s bondholders Monday night but called it off at the last minute, announcing to a crowd of chanting protesters that they would be discussing the agreement behind closed doors.

The 14-page agreement involving the prison and its trustee, UMB Bank, would strengthen the facility’s contract with ICE.

If approved, the updated agreement would ensure the prison maintains the contract with ICE by expanding its population to include detainees. It would also allow the board to sell the prison to a private, for-profit company, reducing city oversight.

The protesters, led by Jewish youth group Never Again Action, have been demanding the prison end its contract with ICE. They’re also calling on Gov. Gina Raimondo to outlaw the operation of for-profit prisons.

Board member Wilder Arboleda told the crowd they decided not to vote on the agreement Monday night because they still had some concerns regarding the proposed updates.

It’s unclear at this time when the board will vote on the updated forbearance agreement.

Never Again Action condemned the board’s decision to postpone the vote for a second time, saying it prolongs the prison’s collaboration with ICE.

As part of a Jewish tradition, protesters ripped pieces of black fabric and left them in a pile on the ground before leaving the meeting.

“Kree-yah is the tearing of one’s clothes or the tearing of cloth to mark a great loss or to respond to a great evil,” Never Again Action explained in a Twitter post. “We mourned, in grieving anticipation, of those whose lives will be threatened by the Board’s vote.”

Protest organizer Aaron Regunberg said now is the time for Raimondo to “make good” on her promise to oppose President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

“This should not be a tough call,” Regunberg said. “Does she want to be a leader, against bigotry and violence and dehumanization of our immigrant brothers and sisters?”

In an open letter to Raimondo, Never Again Action called on her once again to ban private prisons in Rhode Island and end all state and local collaborations with ICE. Never Again also hopes Raimondo does, “everything in her power to release all ICE detainees being held at the Wyatt.”

Josh Block, a spokesperson for Raimondo, tells Eyewitness News Raimondo would be open to reviewing legislation restricting the operation of private prisons.

“The governor’s top priority is protecting the health and safety of all Rhode Islanders, and private prisons limit the state’s ability to ensure the safety and well-being of inmates,” Block said in a statement.

The facility and the protesters have been at odds for months over the prison’s decision to house ICE detainees.

The board last met on Friday to discuss the updated forbearance agreement. During the meeting, demonstrators chanted and sang loudly over board members as they tried to move through the agenda.

Many spoke up during public comment, demanding the board vote against the agreement.

“Bondholders are forcing you to consider an agreement,” protester Stephanie Gonzalez said. “Wyatt doesn’t get to solve its financial issues on the back of members of this community without a fight.”

Last month, protesters stood in front of the facility, blocking off the entrance. A few hours into the protest, a pickup truck was captured on video driving into a group of demonstrators blocking a staff parking lot.

The driver of the truck, later identified as Capt. Thomas Woodworth, an employee of the prison, was placed on administrative leave following the incident and has since resigned.

Earlier this year, another demonstration outside the prison led to the arrest of 18 people after protesters blocked vehicles from entering the facility.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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