Immigration detention: when more detainees equal more profits

Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 11:31 am by

Within the last few years awareness has grown regarding the business of private prisons, particularly private corrections, and its many flaws.  More recently, attention has been paid to the now largest division of the private prison industry: immigration detention.  In 2011, both Amnesty International and PBS’s Frontline brought light to the booming business of immigration detention.

The Sentencing Project’s 2012 report Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention reveals shocking statistics on the number of immigration detainees in private detention centers, including that the total private detainee population increased by 259% between 2002 and 2010.  While the number of  privately held inmates has decreased due to state budget crises and policy changes,  the number of federal detainees under the jurisdiction of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) has increased as a result of  ”stepped up efforts to find, incarcerate, and deport people who violate immigration laws.” “There are indications that federal detention will remain a major market for private companies.”

Prison security systemImmigration detainees differ from prisoners because they are detained while waiting to have their case decided in court as opposed to serving a sentence for conviction of a crime.  Despite the differing reason for imprisonment, immigration detainees will likely face deplorable conditions, abusive treatment, and other human rights violations.  In 2009, the New York Times reported on multiple deaths in a detention facility in Eloy, Arizona owned by one of the largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

The simple calculation that the higher the number of detainees results in higher profits is not hidden. To remain in business, private prisons must focus on the bottom line at the expense of safety, service, and the public good.  The detention business often keeps communities financially afloat.
Undoubtedly, private prison companies benefit from policies that preserve America’s high incarceration rate, specifically, the enforcement of immigration laws.  Multiple investigations and reports make clear the political connections between the private prison business and the passage of anti-immigrant laws. Indeed, as highlighted in Dollars and Detainees, Congress increased funding for detention and removal from over 184 million dollars to 2.75 billion dollars for fiscal year 2012.
Dollars and Detainees provides a thorough background and explanation of how this private prison system works.  The potential for further expansion is easy to see. With such a successful business strategy in place, how far will for-profit detention reach? Could corporate interest forge a relationship with those enforcing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)?  As we’ve already seen in state correction systems and federal immigration enforcement, the risk of indefinite military detention under the NDAA is a situation ripe for privatization.
With the help of reports from organizations like The Sentencing Project, the ACLU, and Amnesty International, and inspiration from communities like Crete, Illinois, now is the time to demand transparency, respect for human rights, and recognition of due process and put a stop to the unregulated development and maintenance of for-profit detention centers.

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