Private prisons for immigrants attacked by advocacy groups

By Alan Bean

This Texas Tribune article touches on a topic dear to all Friends of Justice, the use of underfunded and inept private prisons to house immigrants.  We have had long conversations with many of the people quoted below in recent weeks because they are the experts on this distressing topic.

The private prison industry notes, correctly, that the real issue here is American immigration policy.  But the assertion that companies like CCA and Geo Group have no interest in the immigration policy debate is absurd.  As a National Public Radio investigation discovered, the private prison industry leans heavily on The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  ALEC is a shadowy organization that drafts legislation for state legislators and then hosts lavish conferences where state politicians are encouraged to back these bills.  For instance, SB 1070, the controversial Arizona anti-immigration legislation, was drafted by ALEC.  While the link between ALEC and the private prison industry is difficult to document (this is a highly secretive organization), private prisons, and the anti-immigration movement that sustains them, are central to the punitive, anti-government legislative policy of this powerful legislation-drafting organization.  ALEC is the voice of the corporate world (I was going to say “corporate America”, but that phrase is becoming an anachronism), and private prisons are just one more way for private investors to feed at the government trough.  First you foment a paranoid anti-immigration panic through the dissemination of misleading propaganda; then you sell the politicians a cheap way of getting tough on immigrants.  The private prison industry doesn’t have to lean on ALEC; the industry is ALEC’s brainchild.

Private prisons are cheap because, as Krystal Gomez argues below, they cut corners on staff, medical care, maintenance, food and every other budgetary item.  Immigration prisons are heavily privatized and the consequences for inmates have been horrendous.  Gomez has interviewed scores of inmates in these prisons so she knows whereof she speaks.

Advocacy Groups Target Private Prisons for Immigrants

By Maurice Chammah

The unnecessary prosecution of nonviolent illegal immigrants is sending ever larger numbers to poorly managed private prisons, a coalition of advocacy groups said in a report released Thursday, calling on Congress to reject the appropriation of $25,865,000 for 1,000 new private prison beds. 

The coalition, which includes Justice Strategies, the ACLU of Texas, Grassroots Leadership and the Sentencing Project, argued that “petty immigration violations” are sending more Latinos to prisons where they face “poor management, lack of medical care, prolonged lockdown and human rights violations.” These facilities, called “Criminal Alien Requirement” (CAR) prisons, are run by private companies including the Corrections Corporation of America, the Management & Training Corporation and the GEO Group.

“Conditions in CAR facilities are intentionally separate, unequal and wholly inhumane,” Krystal Gómez, policy and advocacy counsel for the ACLU of Texas, said in a news release. She said she has interviewed more than 100 CAR prisoners.

“Prisoners reported conditions that violate both constitutional protections and human rights norms, such as refusal to diagnose or treat disfiguring and progressive tumors, denial of critical medication to manage chronic diseases like diabetes and epilepsy,” she said, “and failure to identify and treat dangerous communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, which pose significant risk to public health.”

The groups are asking Congress to reject an appropriation of nearly $26 million for 1,000 new prison beds proposed in the 2013 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which would likely go to one of the three companies, which all have a large presence in Texas. A facility in Willacy County on the Texas-Mexico border and managed by the Management Training Corporation (MTC) was converted last year from an immigration detention center to a CAR prison for convicted immigrants.

The demand for immigrant detention facilities grew in 2005 with the beginning of a program called Operation Streamline, which directs law enforcement who catch illegal migrants to turn them over for prosecution, rather than return them to Mexico or send them to immigration courts. Although there are no specific statistics for immigration detention centers, private corrections companies like CCA and MTC currently house 13,812 federal inmates at seven facilities in Texas, according to statistics from the Bureau of Prisons.

Federal Bureau of Prisons spokesman Chris Burke said that his agency cannot respond to complaints about conditions, and that it is up to the companies themselves to deal with the specific concerns of inmates.

CCA spokesman Steve Owen said the criticism is misplaced. “Ultimately, these groups are seeking to engage in a discussion about immigration detention policy, which CCA neither makes nor enforces,” he wrote in an email. “Further, under longstanding corporate policy, we do not lobby for, promote, or in any way take a position on immigration detention policy. We hope these critic groups will shift their time, effort and money to the appropriate policy forums rather than attacking a company providing solutions to some very serious problems facing our country.”

Issa Arnita, a spokesman for MTC, said critics of private prison companies miss the point of the services they provide.

“We are a partner with government agencies to save money and because we bring expertise,” Arnita said.

2 thoughts on “Private prisons for immigrants attacked by advocacy groups

  1. Alan, I have read this. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed with so much that is going on around me. Maybe this is how the Romans felt when the Goths captured the Capotiline Hill. (spelling?)

  2. This morning I read a blog in Tomgram talking about colleges to prisons in California. Money has gone from education to building prisons.

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