(AUSTIN, Texas) — Today, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it will reverse course on an August announcement to phase out the use of private prisons in the federal prison system. The announcement directs the Bureau of Prisons to return to its previous policy and to continue using for-profit private prisons. Read more about BREAKING: Trump’s Department of Justice reverses order to phase out federal private prisons
This past August, the Department of Justice released a statement that it would begin the process of phasing out private prison contracts in federal prisons. According to the Department of Justice, the decision came in response to a declining prison population and acknowledgements that private prisons often have lower safety and security standards.
Private prison corporations, such as Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and GEO Group, were struggling in the early 2000s. However, following 9/11, immigration became a national security issue, which led to an increase in funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The growth in ICE following 9/11 led to CCA and GEO Group being awarded lucratvie immigrant detention center contracts.
These private prison contracts often include a further requirement that the government keep immigrant detention centres full and at times contain a "tiered pricing structure" that provides discounts for those detained in excess of the guaranteed minimum. Private prison companies now control 62 percent of immigration detention beds in the US, according to a report by Grassroots Leadership.
Following the Department of Justice's announcement, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it would evaluate whether it will phase out the use of private immigrant detention centers as well. Read more about Is this the end of prison for profit in the US?
A scathing early-August report by the Office of the Inspector General on the quality-of-inmate-life in private prisons led to a very quick decision by the Department of Justice: Unless a new contract is “substantially reduce[d] in scope in a manner consistent with law,” the Bureau of Prisons must allow its current contracts with private prisons to expire.
The U.S. deputy attorney general said she believes this is just the beginning. In a memo to the acting director of the BOP, Sally Q. Yates wrote, “This is the first step in the process of reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”
But on Friday, Aug. 25, Jeh Johnson, homeland security secretary, announced that he has ordered “a review of for-profit immigration detention contracts.”
The homeland security review comes as something of a surprise: In an e-mail to me later on that same Friday, ICE spokesperson Carl Rusnok indicated that private prisons would continue to be utilized as part of ICE’s inventory of prisoner housing. It should be noted, he included in his message that “ICE detention is solely for the purpose of either awaiting the resolution of an individual’s immigration case or to carry out a removal order. ICE does not detain for punitive reasons.”
Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a nonprofit focused on ending the use of private prisons in the United States, scoffed at the notion that ICE prisons are not punitive.
“People stay in ICE facilities for weeks, months, sometimes years,” he told me in response to Rusnok’s comments. “Just because they put pictures on the walls doesn’t mean [the facilities] are not punitive. There are still locks on the doors and guards to keep you from leaving.” Read more about Private Hells
El anuncio reciente del Departamento de Justicia sobre la eliminación de todo contrato con empresas privadas que manejan cárceles porque que la taza de abuso y violencia contra prisioneros en esos centros es más alta que en cárceles manejadas por el gobierno ha tenido un efecto inmediato.
El Departamento de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE), señaló que ellos también revisarán sus contratos con empresas privadas para verificar la cantidad de abuso y exigir contabilidad de las corporaciones que se nutren de la encarcelación de tantos latinos en el país, en su mayoría mexicanos. Read more about Encarcelación privatizada: Gobierno federal evalúa poner fin al uso de cárceles privadas para inmigrantes
Private prison contractors may lose the ability to run immigrant detention centers as for-profit businesses.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is ordering a review of the agency’s policy of using private contractors to run immigrant detention centers, according to a statement issued Monday.
ICE relies on private companies to handle most of its detention operations. Nearly two-thirds of immigrant detention beds are privatized, according to report last year by Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership. By comparison, 12 percent of Bureau of Prisons facilities are run as businesses.
“Based on the stories that have come out of for-profit detention centers for years, including hunger strikes and protests by detained migrants, there is every reason to believe that ICE-contracted private prisons have many of the same problems that the DOJ uncovered this month,” Grassroots Leadership Director Bob Libal wrote in an email. Read more about Obama Administration Considers Ending For-Profit Immigrant Detention
In Arizona, Republican supporters of for-profit prisons ended the cost-benefit discussion about for-profit state prisons in 2012 by repealing a requirement to compare private prisons with those run by the state.
In reality, cost-benefit discussions are a distraction. The bedrock goal of a private prison is to make money. That’s the point.
Detainees are dollar signs. That’s the problem.
“There’s something morally wrong with making a profit from locking up human beings,” Libal said.
Tax dollars built the private prison industry. The withdrawal of tax dollars can dismantle it. Read more about Valdez: Private prisons are an immoral, publicly funded mistake
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?
News that the federal government is rolling back its dealings with private prisons was a big enough deal on Thursday that it sent Corrections Corp stock plummeting within 60 seconds.
It's no small thing: the government's decision to decline or let expire contracts with the 13 private prisons across the country will affect about 40,000 inmates held inside, according to a 2014 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
But this move only affects a fraction of inmates locked up by the private sector: the same report shows over 91,000 are housed in state prisons, which will be untouched by the DOJ's decision. The BJS report does not include private county prisons.
Nor will the decision touch the private detention operations of the Immigration and and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is housed under the Department of Homeland Security, a bigger client to the private prison industry than the DOJ. ICE is under a mandate to hold 34,000 detainees at a time, and corporations oversee 62 percent of ICE's detention beds.
A damning report by the Inspector General a week ago found private inmates get worse treatment, fewer resources, and shabbier conditions than their counterparts in publicly-run prisons.
"I would still say this is an historic day and may mark a turning point," said Bob Libal, executive director at Grassroots Leadership, a civil rights group that studies and organizes to end private prisons.
"I hope it's one of many big days to come," he added. Read more about The federal shutdown of private prisons only affects a fraction of inmates
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