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Report: Profit Motive May Be Influencing Immigration Policies

PHOTO: A new study points to a rise in the number of private facilities used by the government to detain undocumented immigrants.
PHOTO: A new study points to a rise in the number of private facilities used by the government to detain undocumented immigrants.
July 30, 2012

PHOENIX, Ariz. - The for-profit prison sector would have been hit hard by the Great Recession had it not been for expanded federal immigration enforcement. That's according to a just-released report by The Sentencing Project.

Arizona's state prison population has been essentially flat for the past two years and is projected to remain that way through 2013, reducing the need for new private contracts. But federal agencies have helped take up the slack by increasingly relying on private facilities to hold detainees awaiting hearings, according to Cody Mason, who authored the report.

"A lot of the detention growth is coming from immigrant detainees. There are these huge networks of facilities that they're being housed in, and they're not properly being overseen, and it's hard to keep track of where people are being held and by what companies are actually holding them."

He says most new detention centers are for-profit. Corrections Corporation of America already operates six private prisons in Florence and Eloy, including one of the nation's largest immigrant detention centers. Both cities have plans for further expansion.

Mason agrees that "civil detention facilities" are an improvement over state prisons. He says prisons do not adequately protect immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes from human-rights abuses. But he says there's no good reason to farm out civil holding centers to companies seeking profits.

"Their best interest is in us detaining more individuals - more immigrants, more prisoners - and it just doesn't really seem to be having any positive benefits for the people that are being detained, for the taxpayers, or for the governments."

Supporters of privatization say flexible contracts save taxpayer money. Opponents argue that any savings are minimal, and come from substandard conditions and underpaid, overworked employees. Mason says more transparency in lobbying and campaign financing is needed to reveal the full extent of corporate influence on incarceration and immigration policies.

The full report is available at The Sentencing Project.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ