An Eye on Crete

Just a few years ago, as Illinois folks scratched their heads about a privatized Chicago Skyway, for-profit parking meters, parking lots and more, there was real confidence that even though the move towards privatization was strong, prisons and detention centers would be safe because of the Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act.

In 1990, the State of Illinois, with bi-partisan support, banned most privately run detention centers and prisons through the Moratorium Act.  The law has kept private prison giants Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group out of the Land of Lincoln.  Read some of the text of that bill (730 ILCS 140/2) (from Ch. 38, par. 1582) after the jump.

Sec. 2. Legislative findings. The General Assembly hereby finds and declares that the management and operation of a correctional facility or institution involves functions that are inherently governmental. The imposition of punishment on errant citizens through incarceration requires the State to exercise its coercive police powers over individuals and is thus distinguishable from privatization in other areas of government. It is further found that issues of liability, accountability and cost warrant a prohibition of the ownership, operation or management of correctional facilities by for‑profit private contractors.

The Act states that “the State shall not contract with a private contractor or private vendor for the provision of services relating to the operation of a correctional facility or the incarceration of persons in the custody of the Department of Corrections or of the Department of Juvenile Justice.”

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) plans to change all of that in a proposed intergovernmental partnership between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Village of Crete.  The deal would build a 700-bed facility in that community. Because this would be a federal, not a state or local detention center, the state would not have jurisdiction.

Crete, known for its importance on the Underground Railroad, may become known for a less honorable kind of migration history. Crete may host the detention of immigrants by a for-profit prison corporation.  At a recent village board meeting some residents, in this community divided by the proposal, complained that the process has been secretive and that some information in the distributed literature had been blacked out.  Many of the attendees felt that the minimum-to-maximum security facility would strain their small village.

In a recently distributed FAQ, village officials explained the partnership.  An intergovernmental agreement would be established between Crete and ICE.  Crete would also enter into an agreement with CCA. CCA would be responsible for the construction, ownership and operation of the facility.

Yana Kunichoff at The Chicago Reporter is offering excellent reporting on the proposed detention center this week.   We’ll continue to follow this story closely.  As we do, let’s look at the relationships between CCA and those who are pushing this unneeded and unwanted facility.  And let’s make sure that the good citizens of Crete have all the information they need about for-profit detention centers.  This facility can be stopped.