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Shaken by damning reports and fired by DOJ, prison bosses blame Mexican prisoners as “prone to violence”

August 26, 2016

The Department of Homeland Security should end private prison contracts for immigrant detention centers, including family detention camps

(AUSTIN, Texas) — The immigrant-bashing response from private prison executives to a damning government review of their facilities shows why prison companies shouldn’t be in the business of detaining immigrants.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced last week that it will instruct the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to phase out private prison contracts.  DOJ’s decision to cut ties with private prisons followed a damning Office of Inspector General report that showed, amongst other things, that private prisons contracted by the BOP had higher rates of assaults, both on prisoners and staff, that private prisons improperly put prisoners into solitary confinement, and that private prison contracts did not save significant amounts of money.

Grassroots Leadership calls on the Department of Homeland Security to follow suit and cut contracts with those same private prison corporations operating Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities.

Most privately-operated prisons within the BOP are Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons. CAR prisons hold noncitizens, many of whom have been criminally prosecuted for crossing the border. This announcement will likely mark the end of segregated federal prisons for non-citizens, though it remains to be seen how the BOP will carry out this change.

Private prison corporations reacted to the news by blaming immigrant prisoners for higher rates of violence, even though the DOJ cited operational problems as the cause of the systemic failures within CAR prisons.  GEO Group claimed on a conference call with investors following DOJ’s announcement that immigrant prisoners were more “prone to violence.”  In its response to the OIG report (published along with the report itself and starting on page 70), GEO wrote:

CAR facility populations are criminal aliens and not U.S. citizens. As a group, the CAR population is very homogeneous, with 72.1 % being from Mexico and the majority of the rest being from a few Central American countries. As such, the contract facility population responds as one to any issue, real or perceived. The group leaders can control or direct a large majority of the population in a much larger fashion than in facilities with a mixed U.S. citizenry. Traditional populations do not follow recognized imuate leaders in a "one for all and all for one" mentality.”

CCA also said immigrant prisoners were more likely to be gang members and “predisposed to violence” in its response to the OIG report.  Most immigrant prisoners in the BOP have been convicted of either drug and immigration offenses, and CAR-contract facilities are typically minimum or medium security prisons, not maximum security facilities.  

“Instead of taking accountability for problems in their prisons, private prison corporations have attempted to scapegoat immigrant prisoners by saying that immigrants convicted of drug or immigration crimes are more likely to be gang members and be predisposed to violence than U.S. citizens,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “That’s outrageous.  Companies with this mindset should not be entrusted for the care of immigrants — including immigrants families and other asylum-seekers — in our vast nation’s immigration detention system.”

Many of the immigrants incarcerated in CAR prisons are sentenced for one of two federal charges: misdemeanor improper entry or felony improper re-entry. The book, Indefensible: A Decade of Mass Incarceration of Migrants Prosecuted for Crossing the Border, released by Grassroots Leadership and Justice Strategies last month, revealed that these two charges account for half of all federal prosecutions although they are merely status offenses for crossing the border without proper documentation, and do not fall under DOJ priorities.

Unfortunately, this announcement will not affect the vast system of immigrant detention centers operated by private prison companies for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), including two large family detention camps in Karnes City and Dilley, Texas.

According to a report released by Grassroots Leadership last year, private prisons increased their share of the immigrant detention industry after the implementation of a quota that guaranteed 34,000 immigrants would be detained at any given time. Private prison corporations operated two thirds of ICE detention centers in 2014, and NPR reported last week that the share of immigration detention beds operated by private prison corporations has increased to 72%. CCA and GEO alone operate nine out of ten of the largest detention centers.

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.