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  • Christine Dickason

Profiting Off Of Private Detention

Updated: Aug 15, 2018

Since President Trump took office in January 2017, people seeking refuge and opportunity in this country have been dehumanized through cruel rhetoric, in an attempt to make the administration's zero-tolerance policy acceptable to the American people. Immigrants have been called "rapists," "murderers," and "animals" — and those are just the terms used by the President of the United States.


Some things you might not have heard immigrants called? Dollar signs. Profit. The bottom line.

Photo by Francisco Galarza on Unsplash

But that is exactly how the multi-billion dollar private prison industry views them. Under the Trump administration, private prison industries have experienced a boon, with profits and stocks rising rapidly. Partially, this has been caused by a relaxing of policies that were implemented by the Obama administration in order to phase out government contracts with this controversial sector. For example, after GEO Group (one of the largest private prison companies) gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to Trump's campaign, Trump ended the phasing out of contracts with private prisons during his first month in office. (The private prisons have been sure to pay him back generously, hosting many of their annual conferences at Trump-owned properties.)


Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the Trump administration's immigration policies have directly benefited the private prison industry, which is always looking to expand its market. Remember: the more people that are locked up, the more money the private prisons make. And the U.S. is especially profitable for private prisons, considering that 2.2 million people are behind bars in this country. Expanding the U.S.'s capability to lock up immigrants? Well, private prisons like the sound of that.


A recent release of data by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) revealed that nearly 71 percent of all immigrant detainees were being held in privately-operated prisons. This translates to big bucks for the private prison companies, which are continuing to build more detention facilities to accommodate the growing number of immigrants detained by ICE.


Beyond the obvious concerns with the increasing number of immigrants being detained, what makes the use of private prisons so problematic? First, even though they receive government funding, they are not subject to the same oversight and freedom of information policies that are applied to federal prisons. This can make it hard for anyone to know what's happening behind the doors of private prisons.


And when we do learn what's happening in the prisons, it is often ugly and inhumane. The Department of Justice's own inspector general found that "private prisons with federal prison contracts delivered deficient medical care, had higher levels of violence than regular federal prisons, and misused solitary confinement as overflow space."


Proponents of private prisons will tell you that it helps save the government money. That is simply not true. Data shows that "it costs $149.58 taxpayer dollars to detain one person for one day in a privately-run immigrant prisons, as opposed to $98.27 in a municipal-run immigrant jail." (And, to be clear, no cost savings would be worth the human rights abuses that are so well-documented in private prisons.)


Over the past few months, we have seen outrage from the American public about the children being detained for months at a time and ICE's abuses of power. Unfortunately, ending such zero-tolerance immigration policies now face another big obstacle: a greedy private prison industry that is financially invested in ensuring Trump's draconian policies remain in place.


There is reason for hope, though. Check out the amazing work of the following organizations, and give them your time, money, or both if you can: ACLU, CAIR Coalition, RAICES, Make the Road NY, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Freedom for Immigrants, and the Texas Civil Rights Project. And don't forget to contact your members of Congress by calling 202-224-3121, and urge them to put an end to Trump's zero-tolerance immigration policies.


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