Your Move, DHS
Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it will end its use of privately operated prisons. While we welcome the Department of Justice’s long overdue plans to end its use of private prisons — after finding them costly, unsafe and ineffective — we hope that this decision serves as a stepping stone in the movement to end the role of private prison companies in immigration detention.
For far too long, immigrant detainees have been subject to the private prison industry’s record of abuse, neglect, and substandard care. Today, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, both at the center of DOJ’s announcement, remain profiteers of the confinement of immigrants, including mothers and children seeking asylum.
In 2014, Central American women and children arrived in rising numbers at our southern border, seeking protection from the abuse and inhospitable environments in their home countries. Survivors of rape, kidnapping, and death threats, single mothers braved dangerous journeys with their children in hopes of reaching protection. While the stories of these families immediately identified them as bona fide refugees, our government responded by locking them up in isolated, prison-like facilities.
But this task could not be achieved alone.
Our government offered a generous deal to the nation’s largest prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America. According the Washington Post, in 2015, the first full year in which the largest family detention center in Texas was fully operating, CCA made 14 percent of its revenue, recording record profit. Meanwhile, the GEO Group — already receiving several contracts by ICE — was tasked with the provision of case management of these families. This new contract, expected to generate approximately $47 million in annualized revenues. Evidently, for these corporations, the tactic to raise profits remained the same: target those who are most vulnerable and lock them up.
Although the use of detention is not new, the Obama Administration has made it a key component of its immigration policy. Members of Congress, health experts, and a wide array of advocacy groups, including us, have continuously raised serious concern for the health and well-being of detained families. Despite the vast and well-documented violations occurring within these centers, the pleas for change, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to hand profitable deals to these corporations.
The inherent lack of transparency and accountability in the awarding of private contracts, along with serious concerns over the safety and health of detainees, prompts scrutiny and immediate action. If the Department of Justice finds that private facilities are less safe and “compare poorly” with government run-institutions, then it is inconceivable for the Department of Homeland Security to continue to fuel the privatization of prisons, especially at the expense of those who have not committed a crime by virtue of not having a legal status.
We ask the Department of Homeland Security and state and local governments across our nation to follow the Justice Department’s lead and stop contracting with those seeking to profit off incarceration.
If the nation wants to end mass incarceration, the criminalization of immigrant families must end.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is the only national reproductive justice organization dedicated to building Latina power to advance health, dignity, and justice for 28 million Latinas, their families and communities in the United States through leadership development, community mobilization, policy advocacy, and strategic communications.