Push Continues for Federal Government to Cut Ties With Private Prison Companies

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Push Continues for Federal Government to Cut Ties With Private Prison Companies

Tina Vasquez

Advocates want DHS to end immigrant detention center private contracts because for-profit prison companies “lobby for and profit from racist laws and policies that target Black communities, which are disproportionately represented in immigration detention centers they operate."

A national coalition of immigrant and racial justice organizations, along with those who have been detained, on Wednesday will deliver to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) testimonies and petitions signed by more than 200,000 people demanding DHS stop contracting with private prison companies.

The push from advocates comes after the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) announcement that it will stop contracting with private prison companies.

DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson last month directed the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC), chaired by Judge William Webster, “to evaluate whether the immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should move in the same direction [as the DOJ],” as Rewire reported.

Webster will establish a subcommittee of the council to review policies and practices regarding the use of private immigration detention, and evaluate whether the use of private prisons should end, according to Johnson’s statement. A report on the findings is due November 30.

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The Texas-based organization Grassroots Leadership reports that private prison corporations accounted for two-thirds of ICE detention beds in 2014. The share of immigration detention beds operated by private prison corporations has increased to 72 percent, as NPR reported. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the country’s two largest private prison companies, operate nine out of ten of the largest detention centers, and both have become notorious for human rights violations inside their facilities.

The organizations Color Of Change, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), and Mijente are demanding that DHS end immigrant detention center private contracts because companies like GEO and CCA “lobby for and profit from racist laws and policies that target Black communities, which are disproportionately represented in immigration detention centers they operate,” according to a press release about tomorrow’s action.

Scott Roberts, an organizer with Color Of Change, told Rewire that the action has been in the works for weeks and that it’s important their concerns and demands are heard by DHS officials before the report is filed at the end of November.

Roberts noted that no one who has been detained in detention centers, and none of the organizations that have exposed the abuses inside detention centers, has been included in the subcommittee compiling the report.

“It’s concerning that DHS isn’t relying on the information provided by people who’ve been detained and who have been doing this work. This is our response to that. We are going to force DHS to listen to the voices of those who have been in these facilities and the voices of the community that have been impacted by these facilities and by unjust immigration laws,” Robert said in a phone interview with Rewire. “We’re asking DHS to meet with impacted people and communities throughout this process because we’re concerned that their approach is to look at the expense of these facilities more than the human toll of these facilities.”

Roberts said he was surprised by DHS’s announcement that it was moving toward ending its contracts with private prison companies because the agency initially resisted the move, despite the DOJ’s scathing report finding that some of the same private prison companies that DHS contracts with are inefficient, unsafe, and not worth the cost.

Advocates are hopeful that DHS will stop contracting with private prison companies.

“I think if DHS is really interested in doing the right thing, whatever evidence they gather will show that these private prison companies are not a good investment,” Roberts said. “It is an investment in something that is very corrupt and that routinely violates human rights. The evidence will point to that. I am hopeful they’ll do the right thing.”