Plans by the Department of Justice to begin phasing out contracts with private prisons is fueling calls from immigrant advocates to also end the use of private immigration detention centers.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has in recent years increasingly contracted with private for-profit companies to run a vast network of detention centers to hold immigrants, including the 1,550-bed Eloy Detention Center in Pinal County about 60 miles south of Phoenix.
Critics contend the use of for-profit companies to run immigration detention centers has fueled a trend to hold more people rather than use less expensive alternatives to detention.
"These companies have financial interest in making sure that these detention facilities are full," said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group based in Austin, Texas, that opposes private prisons. Read more about Could for-profit immigrant detention centers, including in Arizona, be next on feds' hit list?
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice has released a report on privately operated prisons that concludes these facilities, some of them located in Texas, have more safety and security incidents than those operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
The DOJ looked at incidents that occurred between Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2014 and OIG staff visited three private prisons that have contracts with the federal government.
Two of them are in Texas.
They are the Dalby Correctional Facility, which is in the northwest part of the state, and the Eden Detention Center, located about 50 miles east of San Angelo. Read more about DOJ Report: Privately Operated Prisons Less Safe For Inmates And Staff
The DOJ’s decision will impact 13 federal prisons run by private companies, or just over 22,000 incarcerated people. These people will be ostensibly shuffled to publicly-operated prisons, which is still a big problem for those who argue that mass incarceration itself is a profound injustice.
As the anti-prison-profiteering organization Grassroots Leadership explains, “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.” Bethany Carson, researcher and organizer for the group, said in a press statement, “We hope that this decision will be a stepping stone for the DOJ to end the use of segregated prisons for non-citizens and de-prioritize improper entry and re-entry prosecutions.” Read more about There's a Monster Loophole in the Feds' Move to Stop Working With Private Prisons
By now you’ve heard the news: The U.S. Department of Justice will stop using private prisons. The price of stock in Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group, the two largest private prison companies, plunged 25 percent within a few hours of the announcement Thursday. By the end of the day, the nonprofit group In the Public Interest listed CCA stock’s drop in value as 50 percent and GEO Group’s at 35 percent.
It’s wonderful news and may seem to come out of the blue. But it follows last week’s release of a report by the DOJ that reiterated what advocates have been documenting for years: Private prisons are both less safe and less effective than those run by the government.
Chief among those advocates is the Texas-based group, Grassroots Leadership, which over the past two years has also partnered with Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform to highlight Vermont’s practice of shipping men out of state to private prisons. (In July 2015, Vermont’s “overflow” prisoners were moved from a CCA-owned prison in Kentucky to a GEO Group prison in Baldwin, Michigan.) Read more about Suzi Wizowaty: DOJ makes right call on private prisons
The Obama Administration announced last week that the federal Bureau of Prisons will end its reliance on privately-run, for-profit prisons. The facilities, which the Justice Department calls unsafe and expensive, currently house about 22,000 inmates, almost all of whom are not U.S. citizens. While the move will do little to reduce the nation’s overall prison population — now numbering more than 2.2 million — supporters say it’s a crucial step in bringing about broader criminal justice reforms. We discuss the details of the policy change and the prevalence of private prisons across the United States. Read more about Federal Government to Phase Out Use of Some Private Prisons
Earlier this month, prisoners incarcerated by the Arizona Department of Corrections at a for-profit private prison in Kingman, Arizona rioted and destroyed much of the facility. The recent unrest and violence at the Kingman prison should come as no surprise to any of us. In fact, we should have anticipated it. Under the management of MTC, a private for-profit prison corporation based in Utah, Kingman has been the site of other unconscionable and high-level disturbances, including the escape of three people who were later tied to the murder of a couple in New Mexico.
The following are remarks by Grassroots Leadership's Executive Director Bob Libal at a July 20th press conference at the Arizona House of Representatives:
I'm very happy to be here this morning with advocates, legislators, and members of the faith community calling for Arizona to implement policies that reduce reliance on mass for-profit incarceration.
Arizona's struggles with for-profit prisons are not unique. Private prisons are well-documented for cutting corners in staffing levels, staff training and staff benefits, all which lead to notably higher staff turnover rates in private prisons than in publicly run prisons. Of course, violence, disruptions, and staff incompetency is found in publicly run prisons, too. The difference is that, as publicly run entities, they can and should be held to account by the public. But when taxpayer dollars are used to outsource the management of prisons, we actually relinquish the right to holding these companies accountable. That, too, is unconscionable. States across the country have seen the kind of incidents that Arizona has saw at the Kingman facility over the past several years. In Texas, conditions at the Willacy County Correctional Center - also operated by Management and Training Corporation, the same private prison company - deteriorated and poorly trained prison leadership reacted so badly that immigrant prisoners rioted and destroyed the facility. Read more about Grassroots Leadership stands with Arizonans calling for an end to for-profit imprisonment
However, our ability to hold the government accountable becomes compromised when it outsources core functions, like incarceration, to private companies. Currently, federal U.S. agencies (Bureau of Prisons, ICE, and the U.S. Marshalls) have outsourced the management of prison and immigrant detention facilities to private, for-profit companies like Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and MTC (Management and Training Corporation). Private corporations are not subject to FOIA laws even though they assume the role of the federal government in the administration of U.S. federal carceral facilities and are compensated with public tax dollars. This fact creates tremendous barriers to justice for those who are incarcerated in privately-run federal facilities because the people who are tasked with protecting their rights do not, in this moment, have the right to request information about what is happening inside of these facilities. This lack of transparency contributes, in our opinion, to the rampant cases of mismanagement, neglect, and other types of prisoner abuse that we have tracked for decades in private facilities, such as those documented in our Dirty 30 report.Read more about U.S. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) reintroduced the Private Prison Information Act
Last week, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that it would terminate its contract with the privately run Texas prison where inmates rioted last month––setting part of the facility on fire––over substandard healthcare, among other abhorrent conditions there.
But observers warn that while there has been an encouraging drop in the number of drug-related incarcerations, the specter of immigration incarceration remains a national priority.
"It's certainly true that there's been a drop in the number of people detained that areincarcerated for drug offenses because of some of the reforms that have been implemented by the Department of Justice," Bob Libal, executive director of the nonprofit Grassroots Leadership, told ATTN:. "But what hasn't changed dramatically is a change in the incarceration of immigrants for migration crimes...particularly reentering the country after being deported, which is the second most prosecuted crime in the entire federal system."
"For us, the closure of Willacy is a good thing––the very first step in what we hope are reforms of the prison system that include shuttering all of these CAR contract facilities...continuing drug reforms, but also reforms to the prioritization of immigration prosecution," Libal said. Read more about Texas Private Prison Closed After Rioting Over Poor Conditions
"Why did a few thousand immigrants imprisoned in South Texas riot last week against the nice private prison corporation that was housing them? Management and Training Corp.'s (MTC) version of events is that its inmates 'refused to participate in regular work duties or attend breakfast early Friday morning,' which certainly seems like an unreasonable thing for an inmate to do.
The inmates then somehow broke out of their housing units, forcing the company to bring in multiple government agencies to lock the place down and also forcing a partial lock-down of the local school district in Willacy County.
MTC had been running its prison under a contract with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, housing illegal immigrants in pre-detention, but in 2011 things went haywire. In a PBS report, a former health worker at the prison testified to 'women harassed for sexual favors, guards taking detainees and beating them, running them down like they were animals,' among other abuses. That year, ICE canceled its contract with the corporation, leaving MTC's 3,174 beds severely underused.
That is, they were underused briefly. Not long after, MTC and Willacy County arranged a contract with the Bureau of Prisons for a facility that would be an upgrade, of sorts: it would become a Criminal Alien Requirement prison, or CAR prison, for immigrants caught crossing the border illegally or convicted of felonies. There are 13 such prisons in the United States, five in Texas. 'We know them to be the worst of the worst," says Cristina Parker, who covers immigration for the advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. "They don't meet the federal standards the way that even very bad federal prisons do.'" Read more about South Texas Prison Riot Probably Happened Because Texas' Immigrant Prisons Are Awful