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End of Private Prison Contracts Won’t Affect Most Immigration Detainees

The Karnes Co. Civil Detention Center is one of three privately run family detention centers, two of them in Texas. (ICE/Wikimedia Commons)
The Karnes Co. Civil Detention Center is one of three privately run family detention centers, two of them in Texas. (ICE/Wikimedia Commons)
August 19, 2016

NEW YORK - The U.S. Justice Department will be ending its contracts with private prisons, but watchdog groups point out that Homeland Security will continue to use them for immigration detainees.

A DOJ memo released Thursday instructs officials to either not renew or "substantially reduce" contracts with private prison corporations as they expire. While that is welcome news to advocates of justice-system reform, Ghita Schwarz, senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights, said it addresses only part of the problem.

"The Department of Homeland Security has made no announcement similar to the Department of Justice," she said, "so the bulk of federal contracting with private prison companies is going to continue through the immigration detention system."

Last week, the Justice Department's inspector general released a report that found private prisons are less safe and less effective than government-run corrections facilities.

As of last December, less than 23,000 federal inmates were housed in private prisons. However, Schwarz said, Congress has funded a minimum of 34,000 beds a day for immigration detention, and 62 percent are in facilities run by private contractors.

"The very same issues that the DOJ has named in ending its contracts - the terrible health care available, the dangers to people incarcerated in private prisons - those are endemic to the private-prison contracts with DHS as well," she said.

Privately run immigration detention facilities include two family detention centers in Texas, holding up to 2,500 mothers and children.

Schwarz said the Justice Department isn't the only government agency to employ private prisons.

"Many of the facilities that involve private prison corporations are actually contracted through local governments, who then subcontract for services through private companies," she said.

A recent report on deaths in immigration facilities over a two-year period found that a disproportionate number occurred in those operated by private prison companies.

More information is online at immigrantjustice.org.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY