for-profit private prisons

Jun 6, 2017
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WyoFile

Legislature chooses savings over rights in prison contract

The Wyoming Department of Corrections recently signed a contract with CoreCivic to house prisoners if the state penitentiary becomes uninhabitable; a future that seems all but certain with the consistent dilly dallying of the Wyoming Legislature and its inability to meet any of the state’s problems head on. A new contract will be entered into this year with CoreCivic, according to the Casper Star-Tribune. CoreCivic is the name Corrections Corporation of America has chosen in an apparent effort to reorganize and leave its shameful past behind.

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In August the Department of Justice announced that it will be phasing out the use of private prisons after a scathing report from the inspector general’s office. This report found substandard living conditions, inadequate medical care and high rates of violence at prisons run by private companies including 14 prisons run by CoreCivic. In the early 1980’s, CoreCivic was the first company in the country to run for-profit prisons and, according to a recent report by Grassroots Leadership, a group that advocates against private prisons, one of the founders of Core Civic stated that they sold incarceration just “like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers.”

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In 2013 Grassroots Leadership issued a report about CoreCivic’s celebration of its 30th anniversary in business. Entitled The Dirty Thirty: Nothing to Celebrate About 30 Years of Corrections Corporation of America the report outlined the corporations infamous history. 

According to Grassroots Leadership the report looks at many areas of concern: “As well as unearthing notable scandals and violations that have taken place over the company’s last three decades, this report charts several other key areas in which CoreCivic has left a dubious legacy. From controversial economic and political ties to operational cost-cutting and depressing labor practices, CoreCivic’s drastic efforts to maximize profits only serve to demonstrate the fundamental reasons why the for-profit prison industry is at odds with the goals of reducing incarceration rates and raising correctional standards.”

Grassroots selected a few of the more egregious issues in CoreCivic’s history to present its concerns about the use of private prisons for incarceration. CoreCivic purchased the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in 2011 and a year into its administration state audits found “staff mismanagement, widespread violence, delays in medical treatment, and unacceptable living conditions including a lack of access to toilet facilities with prisoners forced to defecate in plastic containers and bags.” The prison was often overcrowded and prisoners were forced to sleep on mattresses on the floors or were triple-bunked. Medical care was delayed and chronically ill prisoners were not treated with standard medical protocols.

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According to the Grassroots Leadership report staff misconduct is prevalent and well documented in CoreCivic’s facilities with allegations of violence, sexual abuse, incompetence and mistreatment being regular complaints.  Officers have been found stealing prisoners’ money, selling drugs to prisoners and taking bribes. CoreCivic staff officers have been fired for urinating and placing fecal matter in prisoners’ drinks and food and for sexually abusing female prisoners.

The Grassroots Leadership reports that lack of expertise and training have resulted in numerous escapes and mistaken releases and CoreCivic’s security policies have received heavy criticism. Improper staffing and officer assistance was involved in some of the escapes. Poor conditions, understaffing, and inadequate response have led to riots at CoreCivic’s facilities. A riot in 2004 At Crowley County Correctional Facility resulted in a $600,000 settlement for prisoners who allegedly suffered retribution and abuse. After the riot, prisoners were assaulted by staff, forced to lie in sewage, left outside all night in handcuffs and forced to relieve themselves in their clothes as they were gassed and harassed by staff. Even prisoners who had not participated in the riot were punished. According to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, Wyoming inmates were housed in this private prison at the time of the riots.

Grassroots Leadership goes on to report that lack of adequate medical care has been a continuing problem for CoreCivic. In 1988 a complaint was filed over the death of a 23 year old from pregnancy complications. CoreCivic settled this lawsuit with the family for $100,000. Other lawsuits followed. For example, a death resulted from failure to provide prescribed medication; the inmate ran out of medication, repeatedly asked for a new prescription, and died a day before he was to be released. This case was settled by CoreCivic in 2004 for an undisclosed amount.

Numerous prisoners have suffered under Core Civic’s profit-making schemes and the Grassroots Leaders report lists numerous incidents. In 2003, Estelle Richardson died in a CoreCivic facility in Nashville, Tennessee.  According to the autopsy, Richardson had four broken ribs, a cracked skull, and internal organ injuries consistent with her head and body being slammed on a hard surface. CoreCivic settled this case for about $2 million dollars.

In the CoreCivic Hutto facility built in 1997 as a for-profit medium security prison in Taylor, Texas, immigrant families from Central America, Africa, Iraq, and Eastern Europe were housed when it was changed from a prison to a detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the report, the detainee families, including children, were dressed in prison scrubs, housed in cells, and forced to adhere to strict prison schedules. CoreCivic employee Donald Charles Dunn was found guilty of sexually abusing at least 8 female immigrant detainees while transporting them from the facility. These stories and many others tell the tale of who Corrections Corporation of America was and who CoreCivic very likely will be. Read more about Legislature chooses savings over rights in prison contract

May 19, 2017
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The VT Digger

Prisoners in Pennsylvania is not the solution

 

Vermont inmates are now going to Pennsylvania. That’s good news … or is it? Vermont recently signed a three-year contract with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to house Vermont inmates.

Let us not forget, too, the transportation of the inmates from Baldwin, Michigan, to Pennsylvania. There was areport by Grassroots Leadership in conjunction with Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform in 2013, in which an inmate describes the transportation process: “John, (who preferred we did not use his real name) was transferred to a private prison in Kentucky in 2006, said he had no clue what was happening when officers came into his Vermont cell in the middle of the night, told him to get up and grab his things, and refused to answer when asked where he was going. Shackled to the person next to him, he endured the 36-hour bus ride, still without any idea where he would end up …” The transport process sounds like an awful process, filled with inhumane treatment; in my view the only transport for these men should be back to Vermont. Other men soiled themselves because they could only use the facilities when allowed, even in emergencies. The report went on to state: “The transfer to Kentucky stripped John of access to rehabilitative programs, which simply did not exist at the private prison in Kentucky. Now out of prison and back in Vermont, John regularly advocates for prisoners’ rights, and said, ‘This practice of transferring inmates out-of-state is horrendous. You’re taking people who, whatever support network they may have, is gone. The truth of the matter is [that as an incarcerated person] you’re alone. You’re isolated.’”

Vermont is not only promoting this kind of treatment, in the transfer of inmates, but is continuously allowing inmates to be warehoused with little or no opportunity to work on programs that help them with the reintegration process. Read more about Prisoners in Pennsylvania is not the solution

May 1, 2017
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The Texas Observer

Legislature Plans to Close Four Correctional Facilities. Will They Become Immigrant Detention Centers?

The lean, mean budgets proposed by the Texas House and Senate don’t do much to inspire optimism about the coming two-year cycle. But opponents of mass incarceration have found some solace in funding cuts.

Both chambers propose closing four state correctional facilities this session — a cost-cutting measure that criminal justice reformers say is worth celebrating.

“This is extremely exciting,” said Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights mass incarceration. “We have far too many prisons in Texas, so this is definitely a step in the right direction.”

On the chopping block are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. Altogether,the facilities cost the state $51.2 million every two years and hold 1,755 inmates, according to officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).

The proposed prison closures aren’t yet final. The House and Senate still have to reconcile the differences in their budgets, and Governor Greg Abbott has to approve whatever compromise the chambers reach. Still, shuttering these facilities seems likely.

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It’s not hard to see why the House and Senate both suggest closing a few prisons. The state is in toughfiscal straits, and it stands to save hundreds of millions in the years to come by closing the four facilities, which aren’t needed to the extent they once were. Each of the four facilities is operating at reduced capacity, according to TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier. Altogether, the four units the Legislature is considering for closure can hold more than 2,000 inmates; they’re currently more than 250 prisoners shy of capacity.

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If the recommended closures clear the Legislature, the state will maintain ownership of its two prisons should it need them again, Collier said. CoreCivic and the City of Brownfield, on the other hand, are free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners. That worries Kirby and other policy advocates, who fear they could be used forimmigrant detention.

“I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on how these facilities might be repurposed,” Kirby said. “It’s common practice for privately owned facilities to get used for other populations of prisoners, like immigrants, and it’s particularly concerning in the current political climate, with talk of expanding detention.” Read more about Legislature Plans to Close Four Correctional Facilities. Will They Become Immigrant Detention Centers?

Mar 8, 2017
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Alternet

Private Prison Execs Are Gloating Over Soaring Profits from Trump's Mass Deportation Agenda

In a February 22 call with investors, the private prison corporation GEO Group openly boasted that the Trump administration’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants is boosting its bottom line and fueling its expansion.

One of the largest private prison companies in the world, GEO Group, stands accused of widespread human rights violations, including charges that the company forced tens of thousands of immigrants in ICE detention at the Aurora, Colorado Denver Contract Detention Facility to perform slave labor. GEO Group’s Karnes family detention center in Texas, where mothers are incarcerated with their children, has been the site of repeated hunger strikes over poor conditions and indefinite detention.

Speaking with investors (transcript is available here), David Donahue, the President of GEO Corrections and Detention, directly cited the Trump administration’s “deportation force” as a boon to business.

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Speaking with investors, chairman and chief executive officer George Zoley gloated, “We’re very pleased with our strong fourth quarter and year end results and our outlook for 2017," adding: “It is gratifying to see GEO’s continued financial success.”

Zoley went on to directly cite Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders as a boon to business, proclaiming:

With respect to detention services, in support of border security, we would continue to be the largest provider of detention services to the three federal agencies — that is to ICE, the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service. With this increased and expanded approach to border security, the first agency that will need additional capacity is ICE. Border Patrol will catch individuals and then send them to an ICE facility. Subsequently, there will be a need by the U.S. Marshals Service for those people that have committed criminal acts and need to be detained for adjudication. And further on down the line, BOP will need additional capacity as well for those people who’ve been sentenced and need to serve their time in one of the CAR facilities.

So it’s really an escalation of capacity need for all three federal agencies as a result of the president’s new executive orders redirecting the approach to border security for the three federal agencies.

The advocacy organization Grassroots Leadership blasted the company for profiting from Trump’s plans to implement mass deportations. "While immigrant communities are being terrorized by raids, the private prison industry is quietly celebrating a potential boom in business,” said Bob Libal, the executive director of the organization. “Prison companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America are preparing for an enormous expansion to detention under this administration. Mass deportations should make our country ashamed, not make private prison executives rich." Read more about Private Prison Execs Are Gloating Over Soaring Profits from Trump's Mass Deportation Agenda

Feb 27, 2017
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Westword

The Torturous, Completely Preventable Slow-Motion Death of Dennis Choquette

When he entered a for-profit Colorado prison in July 2014, Dennis Choquette had a serious but treatable foot malady related to diabetes.

But according to a lawsuit filed by his estate, his jailers repeatedly refused to address this problem as a way of saving money, thereby allowing his condition to deteriorate slowly and agonizingly over the course of more than a year.

He died in November 2016, on the very day that lawyers working on his behalf had been scheduled to file a motion asking a judge to set aside his sentence and order that he be admitted to a hospital for an amputation.

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Choquette was imprisoned in the Bent County Correctional Facility, a jail owned by Corrections Corporation of America. CCA, whose website currently lists thirteen jails or facilities in Colorado, including the one in Bent County, is at the center of the 1999 feature article by Alan Prendergast headlined "McPrison." And in 2013, Prendergast tackled the topic again in "Thirty Years of Private Prisons: New Report Details Trouble Behind Bars."

In the latter post, about a scathing condemnation of the firm by the group Grassroots Leadership, Prendergast wrote that CCA was "launched in 1983 by a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken investors" and has been criticized over the years based on allegations that its "for-profit model cuts too many corners, resulting in ill-trained and poorly paid staff," as well as "inadequate medical care."

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The length of time that elapsed between Choquette's entry into jail and his demise makes the manner of his passing even more tragic, in Holland's view. "This was a slow-motion death. In some cases of people dying in jail, people come in and their condition is exploding with urgency at that specific moment. But this was like watching a slow torture unfold."

Co-counsel Holland Edwards sees the story as an example of a larger problem.

"What happened to Dennis is exactly what's wrong with health care at corrections," she says. "They knew he had a condition, and it was treatable. But they refused to help him or to intervene even after we sued. Even when we brought to their attention that it was likely to result in irreparable harm or death, they still didn't want to help him. We went from trying to help our client to trying to figure out the value to his estate of them having killed him."

She argues that Choquette "died of deliberate indifference to his medical needs. He died because this Department of Corrections system and the Corrections Corporation of America were reckless with his medical care. Certainly, he had underlying medical conditions, like a lot of people in jail. He had diabetes and some heart issues. But his foot should have never gotten to the point where he needed amputation. He should still be alive today."

The length of time that elapsed between Choquette's entry into jail and his demise makes the manner of his passing even more tragic, in Holland's view. "This was a slow-motion death. In some cases of people dying in jail, people come in and their condition is exploding with urgency at that specific moment. But this was like watching a slow torture unfold."

Co-counsel Holland Edwards sees the story as an example of a larger problem.

"What happened to Dennis is exactly what's wrong with health care at corrections," she says. "They knew he had a condition, and it was treatable. But they refused to help him or to intervene even after we sued. Even when we brought to their attention that it was likely to result in irreparable harm or death, they still didn't want to help him. We went from trying to help our client to trying to figure out the value to his estate of them having killed him."

She argues that Choquette "died of deliberate indifference to his medical needs. He died because this Department of Corrections system and the Corrections Corporation of America were reckless with his medical care. Certainly, he had underlying medical conditions, like a lot of people in jail. He had diabetes and some heart issues. But his foot should have never gotten to the point where he needed amputation. He should still be alive today." Read more about The Torturous, Completely Preventable Slow-Motion Death of Dennis Choquette

Feb 24, 2017
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The Christian Science Monitor

Sessions memo: Reversal on private prisons could portend shift on justice, observers say

Private prisons could be here to stay, Jeff Sessions signaled on Thursday.

In a memo to the Bureau of Prisons Thursday, the attorney general rolled back Obama-era guidance in which then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates directed the BOP not to renew contracts with private prisons. Attorney General Sessions wrote that Ms. Yates’ August order “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.”

The move may not have a significant impact immediately: The BOP has contracts with just 12 private facilities, housing only about 21,000 of the nearly 190,000 inmates in federal prisons, according to the Justice Department. But for observers, the rethink on private prisons from one administration to the next is indicative of their very different values – and may foreshadow the future of criminal justice under President Trump. 

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“A large part of the impetus for privatization among both Republicans and Democrats is this notion of efficiency – it just sounds really appealing,” says Professor Mears. 

And with a lack of "apples-to-apples" comparative research on similar inmates at the two prison types, politicians' ideology may be the guiding force behind their determination of whether private prisons offer a way to house inmates that is equally as humane, secure, and cost-effective as publicly-operated facilities, he says.

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Campaign donations may also have helped inform the Trump administration’s decision, some suggest. GEO Group, one of the largest for-profit prison operators in the country, gave $250,000 to support Trump's inauguration events, Pablo Paez, the company's vice president of corporate relations told USA Today. CoreCivic, another major private prison operator, gave $250,000 to the inauguration as well.

“Private prison companies were major donors to the President’s campaign.... No doubt there was an expected policy shift in exchange for their support,” writes Michele Deitch, a longtime attorney who is a senior lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, in an email to the Monitor.

Private prisons with government contracts lauded Sessions’ memo.

“Our company welcomes the memorandum by the Attorney General reinstating the continued use of privately operated facilities,” Mr. Paez, of the GEO Group, said in a statement emailed to the Monitor. 

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“It appears that this administration is deeply committed to increasing incarceration, particularly of immigrants, and has very close ties to the private prison industry,” says Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, a criminal justice reform group based in Austin, Texas. Read more about Sessions memo: Reversal on private prisons could portend shift on justice, observers say

Feb 24, 2017
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The Houston Press

Trump AG Rescinds Obama Decision to Stop Use of Private Prisons

Reversing yet another Obama administration decision, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Thursday that the federal government would resume the use of private, for-profit prisons.

Only six months ago, then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates had asked the Federal Bureau of Prisons to phase out its use of the controversial prisons by no longer renewing contracts. The directive affected 13 private prisons across the country that housed roughly 22,000 inmates. Nearly half of those inmates were housed in Texas at five private prisons.

"Private prisons served an important role during a difficult period, but time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities," wrote Yates, who was fired by President Donald Trump after she directed the Department of Justice not to defend Trump's travel ban. "They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security."

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But on Thursday evening, Sessions appeared to write off these findings as insignificant. In a one-paragraph memo, he wrote:

“The memorandum changed long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system. Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach.”

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“Today’s announcement is yet another edict from this administration that undermines civil rights for incarcerated people and criminal justice reform efforts,” said Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership. “This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting commonsense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons.”

As the Washington Post reported, the private prison industry donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Donald Trump's presidential campaign. One such $100,000 donation was sent in from private-prison giant GEO Group just one day after Yates announced they would be discontinued. Read more about Trump AG Rescinds Obama Decision to Stop Use of Private Prisons

Feb 24, 2017
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Rewire

Sessions: Contract With Private Prison Companies That Gave to Trump Campaign

The Department of Justice (DOJ) last year announced the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) would no longer contract with private prison corporations. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday instructed the Bureau to once again rely on these companies, which contributed large sums to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and his inauguration.

The DOJ in August cited private prisons’ failure to maintain adequate levels of safety and security as a primary reason to no longer contract with these companies. Privately run prison facilities have more incidents of violence than their public counterparts, according to the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Assistance. Private corrections facilities experience 65 percent more prisoner-to-prisoner assaults and 49 percent more assaults on staff than public facilities.

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As Austin-based immigrant rights organization Grassroots Leadership noted in a statement about Sessions’ announcement, most privately-operated prisons within the BOP are Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons. These prisons hold noncitizens, most of whom have been criminally prosecuted for crossing the border.

“Today’s announcement likely marks a recommitment to the use of segregated federal prisons for non-citizens. CAR facilities have been racked with scandals and prison uprisings for years, including at theinfamous Tent City detention center in Willacy County, Texas,” Grassroots Leadership reportedCAR prisons were the focus of a recent investigation by the Nation about poor medical care resulting in in-custody deaths.

After the DOJ decision in August, advocates hoped that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would follow suit. That same month, former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) with evaluating “whether the immigration detention operations conducted by ICE should move in the same direction” as the DOJ. It was announced in December that ICE would continue contracting with private prison companies. The announcement did not come as a surprise to advocates, as Trump had just been elected, vowing to drastically expand the already unruly detention system.

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The Intercept reported that Geo Group was one of the first large, publicly-traded firms to make a hefty campaign contribution to Trump, giving $50,000 to a pro-Trump Super PAC and $45,000 to the Trump campaign via the “Trump Victory fund, a joint fundraising committee between Trump and various state Republican Party groups.” CoreCivic donated $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration.

Grassroots Leadership’s Executive Director Bob Libal in a statement cited Sessions’ announcement as yet another act by the Trump administration that undermines criminal justice reforms and civil rights for incarcerated people.

“This administration appears to be more interested in lining the coffers of its friends at private prison corporations than promoting common sense policies that would reduce the incarcerated population and close troubled prisons,” Libal said. Read more about Sessions: Contract With Private Prison Companies That Gave to Trump Campaign

Dec 2, 2016
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Rewire

Department of Homeland Security Will Continue Contracting With Private Prison Companies

A Department of Homeland Security (DHS) subcommittee has decided that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should continue contracting with private prison companies, which have come under fire for their incidents of preventable deaths and allegations that detainees are abused and mistreated.

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 DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson tasked the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) with creating a subcommittee to review ICE’s use of private prison companies like the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, whichrecently rebranded as CoreCivic. Opponents of private prison companies have pointed to allegations of human rights abuses, including incidents of sexual abuse, as a primary reason for the closure of facilities operated by the GEO Group and CoreCivic.

HSAC released the report on December 1 after conducting interviews with detention experts, executives from the major private detention companies, and representatives from national and local immigration advocacy groups, according to the report. Members of the subcommittee also visited two ICE detention facilities, one owned and operated by ICE and the other owned and operated by a private for-profit prison company.

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A fear among advocates—including Bob Libal, executive director of the Austin, Texas-based immigrant rights’ organization Grassroots Leadership—is that ICE will not be held accountable for the growing number of deaths at for-profit prisons. In Raquel Calderon de Hildago’s case, she was being held at CoreCivic-run Eloy Detention Center, which is considered by migrants as one of the worst places to be detained, when she had a series of seizures. She was transferred by paramedics to a nearby hospital, where she died on November 27 at the age of 36. As the Arizona Republic reported, “At the time of her death, she was awaiting deportation to Guatemala, ICE officials said. ICE said database checks indicate she had no criminal history in the U.S.”

Libal told Rewire in a phone interview that he was “heartened” by HSAC rejecting the report’s core recommendation at the hearing this week.

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Libal said that while it’s “somewhat heartening” that the committee dissented, it’s important to get to the heart of the “real issue”: The reason ICE can’t extract itself from contracts with companies like CoreCivic and GEO is because there are too many people in detention—and more expected in the coming months. Any plans for mass deportation, as the president-elect has proposed, require an immediate increase in detention, as migrants awaiting their deportations are placed into detention centers for weeks and sometimes even years. This is an issue that rests squarely on the shoulders of both ICE and the Obama administration, Libal said.

“My hope, and I think a hope of a lot of advocates, was that the report would recommend that ICE reduce the number of people detained, but the report made no such recommendation,” the executive director said.

Moving forward, there are a lot of unknowns about the detention system and how it will continue to take shape. This week, the U.S. government argued at the U.S. Supreme Court that certain migrants in detention shouldn’t qualify for bond hearings after being detained for at least six months. The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy organizations are pushing back against these policies, arguing that all migrants in detention deserve legal protections and due process. Libal said it is this kind of pushback that will be needed more than ever as we enter a new administration intent on further criminalizing and targeting migrants for prolonged detention and deportation.

“We are preparing for what could be one of the darkest times in our nation’s history,” Libal said. “We are handing over the keys to a human rights violation machine to Donald Trump’s immigration force—and that is the fault of this administration. The level of detention dictated why [the subcommittee] felt so beholden to private prison interests. If we had a quarter of people in immigration detention that we do, this would be a much easier problem to solve. And the fact that ICE continues to promote reliance on detention over release from detention or community-supported alternatives is the other reason we have this huge problem.” Read more about Department of Homeland Security Will Continue Contracting With Private Prison Companies

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