The Era Of Private Prisons May Soon Be Over

Homeland Security will review the use of private prisons for immigrant detention.

A detainee at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. The all-male detention center with a capacity of 1,924 detainees is operated on contract by Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, CREDIT: AP Photo/Kate Brumback

Just over a week after the Department of Justice announced that it would phase out the use of private prisons, the Department of Homeland Security said it would evaluate whether immigration detention operations “should move in the same direction.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson said in a statement Monday that he has ordered the creation of a committee to review Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) “current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated.”

Johnson instructed that the evaluation should be completed before November 30 of this year, giving the subcommittee three months to examine the detention centers that hold immigrants in often inhumane and unconstitutional conditions.

If DHS were to determine that it should also stop contracting with corporations, the impact would be far greater than that of DOJ’s decision. As ThinkProgress reported earlier this month, only 13 federal prisons are operated privately and will be affected by the recently announced reform. Many more of the government’s immigration detention centers are run privately. As of last year, 62 percent of immigration detention beds were operated by private corporations.

Currently, ICE relies on private corporations to house growing numbers of immigrants who violate federal immigration law, including draconian enforcement policies passed in the 1990s. As the Obama administration has increased its imprisonment and the eventual deportation of Central American mothers and children, private prison corporations have profited.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest operator of immigrant detention centers, has become notorious for allowing a series of abuses against immigrants, including holding children in prison-like facilities, allowing the sexual abuse of women, providing inadequate medical care, and allowing increased levels of violence that also contribute to high suicide rates.

CCA’s operations of private prisons are similarly inhumane. In Idaho, where CCA runs a major prison, the corporation faced legal action for allowing its violence to proliferate in its prisons and for allegedly falsifying records. The Texas Observer has called a prison CCA runs in Texas, where seven inmates died within a ten-year period, “the worst state jail in Texas.”

In one particularly egregious instance, CCA was caught partnering with violent gangs to save money and to keep prisons in order.

While abuse and neglect are common across the U.S. prison system, privately run prison facilities and detention centers are often riddled with problems because they are driven solely by financial considerations.

Yet the Obama administration has looked the other way and has continued to sign contracts with corporations to operate massive detention centers. In 2014, DHS handed the keys to CCA to run a 50-acre compound in Dilley, Texas to hold 2,400 women and children awaiting release or deportation. That four-year, $1 billion contract “has been a boon for CCA, which, in an unusual arrangement, gets the money regardless of how many people are detained at the facility,” according to the Washington Post.

Spending on immigration detention centers has skyrocketed from $700 million in 2005 to more than $2 billion today, with the largest beneficiaries being CCA and GEO Group.

After the DOJ’s announcement earlier this month, CCA and GEO Group both took a large dip in the stock market.