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. (more…)