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Report: Profit Motive May Be Influencing Immigration Policies

PHOTO: A lot of the detention growth is coming from immigrant detainees.
PHOTO: A lot of the detention growth is coming from immigrant detainees.
July 26, 2012

AUSTIN, Texas - 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. States suffering budget shortfalls, like Texas, have trimmed prison populations, 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. It's hard to keep track of where people are being held and what companies are actually holding them."

He says most new detention centers are for-profit. One such facility opened this year in Karnes City. It's an example of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's effort to steer fewer detainees into the prison system.

Mason agrees that "civil detention facilities" are an improvement over prisons. He says prisons don't adequately protect immigrants who have not been convicted of crimes from human-rights abuses. But he says there is 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.

Border-community advocates fear another side-effect of privatization: corporations lobbying for immigration-enforcement policies that will boost their bottom line. ACLU of Texas Public Education Director Dotty Griffith says that could undermine immigration reform efforts.

"Discussions about detention of undocumented immigrants should be about the policy, not about increasing profits for any corporation that makes money off of putting people in prison."

She worries that the public interest may be shifting from locking up the right people to locking up the right number of people. The Sentencing Project's Cody 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

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX