On any given day, at least 34,000 people are detained in immigrant detention centers in the U.S. to meet an arbitrary lock-up quota dictated by Congress. Stopping the quota would be a giant step forward in ending our reliance on detention. Grassroots Leadership researches and exposes the role of for-profit prisons and their lobbyists in enacting the quota contributes to the growing national movement to stop immigrant detention.
Detention and the #EndTheQuota Campaign
Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based national organization working to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, hailed the legislation as "a major stride toward a justice system that is obliged to put human beings over private interests."
"As long as there are corporate financial incentives for locking people up and keeping them behind bars, reforming drug laws and other sentencing policies will produce limited results for meaningfully decreasing the astronomical rate of incarceration in this country," said Kymberlie Quong Charles, criminal justice programs director for Grassroots Leadership. Read more about 'Justice Is Not For Sale': Bernie Sanders Leads Charge Against For-Profit Prisons
WASHINGTON -- Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation on Thursday that promises to ban government contracts for privately run prisons and jails within three years. Implementing such a plan would be an ambitious effort, as it would give authorities more than 100,000 additional inmates to manage -- the number held in private facilities as of 2013. The bill's immigration provisions are similarly bold.
"We have got to do everything that we can as a nation to end that reality of locking up so many people, and we have got to do it as rapidly as possible," Sanders said at a press conference on Thursday.
The Justice Is Not For Sale Act, introduced in the House by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and other lawmakers, would ban federal, state and local governments from contracting with private companies to run prisons and other detention facilities. Within three years, facilities housing prisoners must be under government control.
The bed mandate and use of private prison contractors, in particular, are incentives for immigration agents to apprehend and detain as many people as possible, according to advocates for reform. The government is required to maintain 34,000 beds to hold immigrants who are undergoing deportation proceedings.
Officials say they consider that mandate to refer to having the capacity to detain that number, not actually having those beds full at all times. But more people in detention means more money for the companies housing immigrants awaiting deportation, because 62 percent of beds are in privately run facilities, according to the civil rights group Grassroots Leadership. Read more about Bernie Sanders Wants To End Private Prisons. That's Really Ambitious.
Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill) introduced the Justice is Not for Sale Act, a comprehensive bill that outlaws the use of for-profit prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers. Read more about 7 good things that will happen if we ban private prisons with the #JusticeNot4Sale Act
(AUSTIN, Texas) — Grassroots Leadership today applauded the introduction of the Justice is Not for Sale Act, introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.). The bill bars the federal government and state and local jurisdictions from contracting with private corporations to run prisons and detention facilities, reinstates the federal parole system, and makes several changes immigration detention law. Read more about Grassroots Leadership applauds “Justice is Not For Sale” Act to end for-profit prisons
Construction on private prison-operated facilities has grown nationwide, especially in Texas. At 39 percent, Texas has the highest concentration of privately run detention beds in the country, according to the immigrant advocacy group Grassroots Leadership.
The two largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, operate 72 percent of the private immigrant detention industry. Both companies reported surging profits in their quarterly earnings. That’s in part because many contracts include occupancy requirements mandating that state or local governments must keep facilities anywhere between 80 and 100 percent full. On top of that, Congress has a so-called bed mandate, requiring that the Department of Homeland Security make available at least 34,000 beds every night for immigrant detention. That figure has been adjusted to around 31,000 for the 2015 fiscal year. Read more about The Financial Collapse Of The Private Immigrant Detention Industry
Today the 566-bed facility, called the La Salle County Regional Detention Facility, sits almost empty behind thick coils of razor ribbon in tiny Encinal, whose 579 residents barely outnumber prison beds. Another border detention center was destroyed in a riot by prisoners after cost-cutting efforts led to deplorable conditions. Another, on the banks of the Rio Grande River, is slated to close next month after too few inmates walked through the doors to keep up with big debt payments.
“The number of people detained and incarcerated for immigration matters hasn’t kept up with the pace of construction for these new beds,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy organization based in Austin, Texas, that opposes private prisons.
The drop-off follows an almost two-decade boom that saw the number of immigrant detainees mushroom, partly as a result of more people crossing into the U.S. and partly due to a get-tough attitude toward illegal border crossers. County jails grew overcrowded. Read more about Border Jails Facing Bond Defaults as Immigration Boom Goes Bust
The immigrant detention quota, first written into the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations act in 2009, requires 34,000 detention beds to be maintained each day. Read more about Why you should care about the immigrant detention quota
This is the second installment of the Quotes on the Quota blog series. Read the first installment here. Read more about “We had to do something:” Testimony of a hunger strike leader continues to inspire during national week of action to end immigrant detention
Two reports bring back to the forefront the issue of existing policies and financial incentives that stand in the way of due process for individuals in immigration detention centers.
Both reports released this spring — one by Austin-based nonprofit Grassroots Leadership and the other by Detention Watch Network — reveal the growing role private prison corporations play in the detention of immigrants due in part to a requirement by Congress to maintain a specific number of detention beds. The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency spends nearly $2 billion annually on the detention of people. Private companies control about 62 percent of the detention beds used by ICE, according to the Grassroots report. Both reports call on Congress to eliminate the immigrant detention quota from its 2016 appropriations request.
The two largest private prison companies involved in detention — Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group – were awarded nearly half a billion dollars from immigrant detention services in 2014 alone, according to the Grassroots report. Both companies received contracts to operate family detention centers in Texas following the child migrant crisis last year. The newly constructed 2,200-bed family detention center in Dilley is operated by CCA. The 530-bed detention center in Karnes City is run by GEO Group. Read more about Immigration detention center quotas need revision