Category: detention centers

With Immigration Reform Looming, Private Prisons Lobby Work to Keep Migrants Behind Bars

Laura Carlsen

By Alan Bean

In this HuffPost piece, Laura Carlsen lays bare the idiot greed driving American immigration policy.  You will notice that most members of the eight-person bi-partisan team pushing the reform agenda in Congress (including all the Democrats) have received generous contributions from the private prison industry.  Why has a smart man like Barack Obama embraced a brain-dead immigration policy.  Well, consider this:

The inhumane and illogical step of pre-deportation detention was invented by the private prison industry. Last year, the Obama administration spent more money on immigration enforcement, including detention, than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined — a staggering $18 billion. The detention centers receive $166 per person, per day in government funds — an amount that would be a godsend to a homeless family or unemployed worker.

Please give this article the attention it deserves

With Immigration Reform Looming, Private Prisons Lobby to Keep Migrants Behind Bars

By Laura Carlsen

As the immigration reform debate heats up, an important argument has been surprisingly missing. By granting legal status to immigrants and ordering future flows, the government could save billions of dollars. A shift to focus border security on real crime, both local and cross-border, would increase public safety and render a huge dividend to cash-strapped public coffers. (more…)

Why we shouldn’t sell our prisons to for-profit corporations

by Melanie Wilmoth Navarro

States around the country are facing massive budget shortfalls. So it comes as no surprise that the largest private prison company in the U.S., Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), is capitalizing on these budget crises through what it is calling the “corrections investment initiative.”

As reported in the Huffington Post, CCA recently sent letters to 48 states offering to purchase public prisons as a way for states to generate income in these tough financial times. The letter indicates that “CCA is earmarking $250 million for purchasing and managing government-owned corrections facilities.”

If a state decides to sell a facility to the corporation, it would enter into a 20-year contract with CCA and would be required to ensure the facility maintains a 90% occupancy rate throughout the duration of the contract.

There are several serious concerns with this proposition. (more…)

Victory for immigrant rights advocates: ICE backs away from family detention in Texas

by Melanie Wilmoth

In 2009, immigrant rights activists successfully fought to end family detainment at the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor, Texas. A few weeks ago, Friends of Justice posted a blog about U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) request for 100 new family detention beds in Texas. Many of the same activists who fought against family detention in 2009 joined forces again to keep ICE from opening a new family detention center in the state.

“Last month,” according to Grassroots Leadership, “a broad coalition of more than 65 national, state, and local immigrant, civil rights, and faith organizations called on ICE to end the practice of detaining immigrant families, including small children and infants.”

As a result of these efforts, ICE has decided not to bring family detention back to Texas. Although this is a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. “This is a victory for advocacy organizations who did not want to see family detention return to Texas,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership in a press release, “however, the administration should discontinue the practice of detaining families altogether and prioritize non-restrictive alternatives to detention of families.”

Activists praise ICE decision not to open new family detention center in Texas


Prior to 2009, undocumented immigrant families were detained in a private prison facility in Taylor, Texas. The T. Don Hutto Residential Center, owned by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), profited from a government contract to imprison undocumented families. After the ACLU of Texas sued the T. Don Hutto Center and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 for detaining immigrant children, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) changed its policy on family detention in Texas.

Since 2009 the only detention center in the country still housing immigrant families is the Berks County Family Shelter in Leesport, Pennsylvania. As KUT radio in Austin reported, however, in November ICE put out a request for proposals for a new 100 bed family detention center in Texas. (more…)

Will Texas return to detaining immigrant families?

In 2006, the state of Texas began detaining immigrant families and children at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, TX. The detention center did not stop housing immigrant children until 2009, after the ACLU of Texas sued Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Rather than turning to more humane and practical solutions like probation or home-like community shelters, however, Texas may soon reinstate the practice of detaining immigrant families. According to KUT, ICE recently requested 100 new family detention beds in the state.

We need to consider how the criminalization of immigration contributes to mass incarceration. We must also look at the looming possibility of family detention, the effects of which would be devastating to the physical and mental well-being of immigrant children and families in Texas. MW

Immigrant Family Detention Could Return to Texas

by Erika Aguilar

Undocumented families waiting for their immigration status to be determined could soon be held in detention centers in Texas. The federal government is reviewing contracts from companies interested in running them.

Central Texas housed immigrant families in the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor from 2006 to 2009, and some immigration rights advocates say they fear the practice of detaining families could return.

The ACLU of Texas sued the T. Don Hutto Center and  Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2007 for detaining immigrant children.

“The ICE field office started using its discretion a little more bit more wisely, allowing some of the bond-eligible families to bond out,” said Lisa Graybill, the legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Others were placed in shelters like Casa Marianella, which is a shelter for immigrant families and immigrant women, and other sort of community-based alternatives.”

After that, the only detention center in the country still housing families was in Pennsylvania. That center will be closed in March. But last November, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement put out a request for proposal for 100 new family detention beds in Texas. (more…)

Profiting from Prison

by Melanie Wilmoth

Over the past decade, federal and state governments have increasingly turned to prison privatization. A report released this week by The Sentencing Project highlights the rise of private prisons in the U.S. and the consequences of privatization.

Private prisons now hold approximately 8% of the entire prison population in the U.S. This shift toward privatization, The Sentencing Project reports, began with public policies enacted in the 1970s and 1980s:

“The War on Drugs and harsher sentencing policies, including mandatory minimum sentences, fueled a rapid expansion in the nation’s prison population. The resulting burden on the public sector led private companies to reemerge during the 1970s to operate halfway houses. They extended their reach in the 1980s by contracting with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to detain undocumented immigrants.”

Private prison corporations are in the business of warehousing prisoners. They contribute to and profit from mass incarceration. With the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), for-profit prison companies have lobbied for mandatory minimum sentences, three strikes laws, truth-in-sentencing policies, and immigrant detention centers. As a result of increasing prison privatization, two of the largest private prison companies, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, have combined annual revenues exceeding $2.9 billion. (more…)

Immigrant detention in the U.S.: Tales from within

by Melanie Wilmoth

In a recent report published at, Seth Freed Wessler describes his experiences visiting the Baker County Jail and several other immigrant detention centers throughout Florida and Texas.

Since 2009, the rapid expansion of immigrant detention in the U.S. has led Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to create or expand at least 10 detention centers. In addition, immigrant detention accounts for over $2 billion in the 2012 federal appropriations bill. The private prison industry, which grosses about $5 billion annually, is contracted to operate most of these detention facilities.

Despite the Obama administration’s plan to reform immigration laws and prioritize alternatives to mass detention, “ICE under Obama has moved to build more facilities, which it says will be ‘humane.’”

But, in reality, how “humane” are these facilities?  (more…)

Advocates protest immigrant detention center in Waco,TX

In honor of International Human Rights Day, advocates gathered last weekend to protest the Jack Harwell Detention Center. Reports from the detention center, located in Waco, TX,  indicated poor conditions and human rights abuses within the facility. In addition to focusing on the issue of immigrant detention, protestors shed light on the negative impact of the private prison industry. Check out the Texas Independent article below for a full report on the event. MW

Vigil in Waco protests immigration detention system, private prisons


In Waco, a group of activists from around the state gathered to hold a vigil in honor of International Human Rights Day. Those gathered said they were there to shed light on “the devastating impact of detention and deportation on immigrants and their families,” as well as protest the for-profit private prison system that houses many of the detained undocumented immigrants.

According to a press release by Grassroots Leadership, which works with community, labor, faith, and campus organizations throughout the South and Southwest, the vigil took place in Waco to raise awareness of the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, a private jail operated by Community Education Centers, a for-profit private prison corporation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained immigrant women at the Jack Harwell Detention Center until ICE transferred the women from Jack Harwell to other privately operated detention centers in Taylor and Laredo. The press release stated that “reports from inside the facility included complaints of lack of access to medical care, including for pregnant women, spoiled food, no contact visits, and virtually non-existent access to attorneys.” (more…)

“Banking on bondage”: The rise of private prisons in the U.S.

by Melanie Wilmoth

A recent report by the ACLU, “Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarceration,” details how the private prison industry feeds (and profits from) mass incarceration in the U.S.

As the ACLU points out, there are few who truly benefit from our country’s obsession with “tough-on crime” policies. With over 2.3 million people behind bars in the U.S, the punitive consensus driving mass incarceration has successfully shattered families and busted states’ budgets. However, there is one group that does benefits from locking up more and more people: the private prison industry.

Just as prison populations in public corrections facilities boomed over the last 30 years, the number of individuals in private prisons increased over 1600% between 1990 and 2009.

For private prisons, more crime equals more prisoners and more prisoners equals more profit. It’s no wonder that for-profit prisons support immigrant detention, mandatory minimum sentences, and “truth in sentencing” and “three strikes” laws. Large prison populations and harsh sentences result in greater profits. In fact, the success of the private prison industry relies on the country’s opposition to criminal justice reforms and fair sentencing laws:

“In a 2010 Annual Report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company, stated: ‘The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by…leniency in conviction or parole standards and sentencing practices…’

The GEO Group, the second largest private prison operator, identified similar “Risks Related to Our Business and Industry” in SEC filings:

‘Our growth depends on our ability to secure contracts to develop and manage new correctional, detention and mental health facilities, the demand for which is outside our control …. [A]ny changes with respect to the decriminalization of drugs and controlled substances could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them. Similarly, reductions in crime rates could lead to reductions in arrests, convictions and sentences requiring incarceration at correctional facilities. Immigration reform laws which are currently a focus for legislators and politicians at the federal, state and local level also could materially adversely impact us.’”

Moreover, when you’re in the business of locking people up, there is high incentive to cut costs and maximize profits and little incentive to rehabilitate inmates and reduce future crime. As a result of cost-cutting measures, research suggests prisoners in private facilities are more likely to experience violence and inhumane conditions. In addition, private prisons tend to have high staff turnover due to low wages. While corrections officers and staff are making close to minimum wage, top executives at GEO and CCA receive over $3 million each in annual compensation.

Also of concern, as Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast points out, is the seldom mentioned “revolving door” between public and private corrections which the ACLU report highlights:

“Many in the private prison industry…once served in state corrections departments, and numerous state corrections officials formerly worked for private prison companies. In some cases, this revolving door between public corrections and private prisons may contribute to the ability of some companies to win contracts or to avoid sufficient scrutiny from the corrections departments charged with overseeing their operations.”

With high incentives to increase prison populations while cutting corrections costs and with little meaningful oversight due to the “revolving door,” the private prison industry is in a dangerously powerful position. In order to end mass incarceration, as the ACLU suggests, we must divest from private prisons and halt the expansion of “for-profit incarceration.”

To read the full ACLU report, click here.

“Shattered families”: The intersection of immigration and child welfare

by Melanie Wilmoth

Earlier this week, the Applied Research Center (ARC) published a report exploring the effect of immigrant detention and deportation on the welfare of children and families.

Largely due to an increasingly anti-immigrant sentiment and aggressive enforcement of immigration laws, deportations are increasing at alarmingly high rates. ARC reports that “in 1992, the U.S. government [deported] 44,000 people, a historical number at the time. In less than two decades, that number has grown ninefold.” This year alone, the U.S. deported almost 400,000 people. Of those 400,000, 22% were parents of U.S.-citizen children.

In the U.S., 5.5 million children have an undocumented parent. According to ARC, “in the first six months of 2011, the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S.-citizen children. These deportations shatter families and endanger the children left behind.” Shockingly, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has no up-to-date policy or guideline that addresses family protection in immigration cases.

So, when parents are detained or deported, what happens to the children who are left behind?

Often, these children end up in the child welfare system. Once detained, parents are moved hundreds of miles from their homes and are isolated from their children and families. Therefore, detained parents are unable to participate in the case plans that are required by Child Protective Services (CPS) for family reunification. In addition, child welfare departments lack policies aimed at reunifying children and deported parents. It is the combination of these factors and aggressive immigration enforcement that results in shattered families.

Over 5,000 children are in foster care because their parents were detained or deported. If these trends continue, ARC estimates that 15,000 more children will be separated from their families in the next 5 years.

To read more about the intersection of immigration and child welfare, check out the ARC’s full report here.

“Lost in detention”: The criminalization of immigration

by Melanie Wilmoth

Earlier this week, PBS Frontline aired its documentary “Lost in Detention.” The documentary takes a hard look at the broken U.S. immigration system and the resulting increase in the number of detained and deported immigrants.

Under the Obama Administration, over 400,000 immigrants were detained and deported this year alone (which is a significantly higher number of deportations than in previous administrations). As Frontline suggests, much of this increase in detention and deportation is a result of Secure Communities, a partnership between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the FBI that uses fingerprint data to track criminal immigrants. Secure Communities allegedly aids in the deportation of immigrants who have committed serious crimes and, thus, pose a threat to public safety. According to ICE, Secure Communities prioritizes “the removal of individuals who present the most significant threats to public safety as determined by the severity of their crime, their criminal history, and other factors.”

However, the Secure Communities program has reached far beyond its stated purpose. Since its implementation in 2008, Secure Communities has successfully broken up families and incited fear in immigrant communities. Thousands of individuals, many of whom are non-criminals, U.S. citizens, and parents of children who are U.S. citizens, have been arrested. In addition, Latinos have been disproportionately affected by Secure Communities, making up 93% of those arrested through the program.

After arrest, 83% of individuals are placed in detention centers. Punitive in nature, the 250 detention centers in the country warehouse immigrants in prison-like settings until deportation. Reports of abuse in these centers run rampant.  (more…)