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Profiting Off the Incarceration of Immigrants

This excellent AP article details how private prison companies have grown revenues from contracting to incarcerate immigrants concurrent with investing millions in lobbying lawmakers:


The cost to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually.[…]
The growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.
In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago.
The companies also have raked in cash from subsidiaries that provide health care and transportation. And they are holding more immigrants convicted of federal crimes in their privately-run prisons.
The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn’t necessarily cheaper.
This seismic shift toward a privatized system happened quietly. While Congress’ unsuccessful efforts to overhaul immigration laws drew headlines and sparked massive demonstrations, lawmakers’ negotiations to boost detention dollars received far less attention.
The industry’s giants Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.[…]
The total average nightly cost to taxpayers to detain an illegal immigrant, including health care and guards’ salaries, is about $166, ICE confirmed only after the AP calculated that figure and presented it to the agency.
That’s up from $80 in 2004. ICE said the $80 didn’t include all of the same costs but declined to provide details.[…]
The federal government stepped up detentions of illegal immigrants in the 1990s, as the number of people crossing the border soared. In 1996, Congress passed a law requiring many more illegal immigrants be locked up. But it wasn’t until 2005 as the corrections companies’ lobbying efforts reached their zenith that ICE got a major boost. Between 2005 and 2007, the agency’s budget jumped from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion, adding more than $5 million for custody operations.[…]
Beyond civil detention centers, private companies are also making more money locking up non-citizens who commit federal crimes.
To deter illegal border crossers, federal prosecutors are increasingly charging immigrants with felonies for repeatedly entering the country without papers. That has led thousands of people convicted of illegal re-entry, as well as more serious federal offenses, to serve time in private prisons built just for them.
A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.
CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention.
GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.
“Another factor driving growth … for the private sector is in the area of immigration and illegal immigration specifically,” Chief Financial Officer Brian Evans told investors in GEO’s 2011 3rd quarter earnings call.
CCA warned in its 2011 annual earnings report that federal policy changes in “illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.”