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Thursday, 09 August 2018 06:40

Trump's Immigration Policies Lead to Another Private Prison Growth Spurt

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6771698125 9e979f1d04 z Kate Ter Haar/Flickr

The United States has the world's largest private prison population. As The Sentencing Project's recent report Capitalizing on Mass Incarceration: U.S. Growth in Private Prisons, pointed out, "Of the 1.5 million people in state and federal prisons in 2016, 8.5 percent, or 128,063, were incarcerated in private prisons. Another 26,249 people - 73 percent of all people in immigration detention - were confined in privately-run facilities on a daily basis during fiscal year 2017." 

President Trump's zero tolerance immigration policy has resulted in a huge bump in arrests and detentions of immigrants and their children, and the concomitant rise in the need for more detention facilities. According to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy research and publishing group supporting alternatives to prison, "Trump's 2018 proposed budget to Congress asked for $1.2 billion to add 15,000 more private prison beds for immigration detention. In September 2017, ICE requested that a new immigrant detention center be constructed in South Texas, stating that it would need to hold approximately 1,000 more migrants. This facility will be operated by GEO Group, and is expected to open in late 2018." 

Trump's policies have, as Scott M. Stringer and Javier H. Valdés wrote recently in The New York Times, "one clear beneficiary: the private prison industry."

The Florida-based GEO Group, and the Tennessee-based CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) are "the two largest private prison corporations," dominate the business and "will reportedly be pursuing additional contracts to meet the detention demands of President Trump's immigration policies," The Sentencing Project report, written by Kara Gotsch and Vinay Basti,stated. The two companies "manage over half of the private prison contracts in the United States with combined revenues of $3.5 billion as of 2015." 

"From 2000 to 2016 the number of people housed in private prisons increased five times faster than the total prison population." At the same time, "the proportion of people detained in private immigration facilities increased by 442 percent."

The private prison industry is not new, and has historically flourished. Anti-privatization organizations have been calling attention to uneven conditions in private prisons. The labor of prisoners in private prisons labor is remarkably cheap, guards are often unskilled, undertrained, and underpaid, and their benefits do not nearly match up with staff at publicly run institutions. Stringer, the comptroller of New York City and Valdés, a community organizer, pointed out in The New York Times that "A 2016 Justice Department report found that there were more safety and security problems in private prisons than in those run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons."

President Obama issued a directive aimed at reducing the use of private prisons. Although "the federal government is the single largest user of private prisons in the United States,' in recent years it has "reduced its population." Attorney General Jeff Sessions, however, reversed the Obama-era directive, claiming to be concerned that without private prisons, the federal correctional system will not be able "to meet future needs," he said in a February 2017 document titled "Rescission of Memorandum on Use of Private Prisons."  

What is particularly interesting about The Sentencing Project's report is the variation in the use of private prisons in different states. Of the 27 states relying on non-profit and for-profit private prisons, New Mexico and Montana lead the way, 43 percent and 39 percent of their prison populations, respectively. 

Between 2000 and 2016, five states – Alabama, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Vermont – began contracting with private prisons, while in the same time period, eight states – Arkansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, North Dakota, Utah and Wisconsin – "eliminated their use of private prisons due to concerns about safety and cost cutting. 

According to the report, a major growth area is immigration detention. "In 2002, approximately 4,800 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees were held in privately run facilities. By 2017, that number had jumped to 26,249 people. This expansion of detention was influenced by a shift in immigration policy enforcement."

During the Obama era, immigrants fleeing violence and seeking asylum from Central American countries El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, led to a need for more detention facilities. The private sector stepped in and as a result, "Incidents of assault, hunger protests, and medical neglect were reported at these facilities."

The report pointed out that Geo Group had detainees at its facility in Colorado work for $1 a day. "In Washington State in 2017, the state's Attorney General sued GEO Group for allegations that immigrant detainees were mandated to work for $1 a day. The Attorney General argued that the state's minimum wage was $11 an hour, and that the detainees were being held under 'civil charges, not criminal charges,' meaning that that minimum wage must be upheld." 


Interestingly, in contracts with states and the federal government, private prison companies are often guaranteed payment whether beds are filled at their facilities or not. According to the Center for American Progress' Michael Sozan, "ICE contracts with private prison companies often include fixed prices, meaning private prison companies are paid whether or not detention space is used."

The Sentencing Project Report's Key Findings: 

  • Of the total U.S. prison population, one in 12 people (128,063) was incarcerated in private prisons in 2016; an increase of 47 percent since 2000. 
  • 26,249 people were also confined in privately-run immigration detention facilities in fisscal year 2017; a 442 percent increase since 2002. 
  • Federal prisons incarcerated the largest number of people in private prisons, 34,159, marking a 120 percent increase since 2000. 
  • The largest private prison corporations, Core Civic and GEO Group, collectively manage over half of the private prison contracts in the United States with combined revenues of $3.5 billion as of 2015. 
  • Companies often trim prison budgets by employing mostly non-union and low- skilled workers at lower salaries and offer limited benefits compared to staff at publicly run institutions. 
  • Cost savings claims associated with prison privatization are unfounded according to decades of research. 

In mid-July, Michael Sozan reported for the Center for American Progress that "For-profit private prison companies have been showering members of Congress and organizations related to President Donald Trump with campaign cash, while simultaneously lobbying lawmakers on immigration detention matters." 

Sozan found that at the presidential level, Geo and CoreCivic "spent big money to support the candidacy of Donald Trump, including:

  • GEO Group and one of its subsidiaries, GEO Corrections Holdings, gave three donations totaling $275,000 to a pro-Trump super PAC called Rebuilding America Now. As discussed below, certain campaign finance experts allege that the subsidiary's donations were illegal.
  • GEO Group donated $170,000 to Trump Victory, a joint fundraising venture involving the Republican National Committee and Trump's presidential campaign organization.
  • GEO Group and CoreCivic each contributed a whopping $250,000 to President Trump's inauguration committee.
  • GEO Group moved its 2017 annual conference to a Trump-owned resort.

The report's overview concludes: "Political influence has been instrumental in determining the growth of for-profit private prisons and continues today in various ways. If overall prison populations continue the current trend of modest decline, the privatization debate will likely intensify as opportunities for the prison industry dry up and corrections companies seek profit in other areas of criminal justice services and immigration detention." 

There has been Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks, Trump University, Trump Golf Course, Trump Casinos, Trump Hotels and the list goes on and on. Given the family's great appreciation for privatization, and that they're always looking for ways to cash in on the presidency, may I suggest another investment opportunity; Trump Prisons. The labor of prisoners is remarkably cheap, guards are often unskilled, undertrained, and underpaid, and their benefits do not nearly match up with staff at publicly run institutions. It is a natural fit for the Kleptocrats in the White House.