The BOP’s “Second-Class” System

Over at, Cristina Costantini and Jorge Rivas offer a scathing critique of the Bureau of Prisons’ housing and management of non-U.S. citizens, which has largely been handed over to private prison corporations headed by individuals with ties to the BOP and the Department of Justice.

A Fusion investigation found that without a single vote in Congress, officials across three administrations: created a new classification of federal prisons only for immigrants; decided that private companies would run the facilities; and filled them by changing immigration enforcement practices.[…]  Most of the roughly 23,000 immigrants held each night in CAR prisons have committed immigration infractions — crimes that a decade ago would have resulted in little more than a bus trip back home. And now, some of the very same officials who oversaw agencies that created and fueled the system have gone on to work for the private prison companies that benefited most.

The low-security facilities are often squalid, rife with abuse, and use solitary confinement excessively, according to advocates.

Built in remote towns across the country, these prisons hold nearly twice the number of inmates in solitary confinement as other federal facilities, an American Civil Liberties Union report found. Inmates are allegedly placed in solitary confinement for complaining about food, medical care or filing grievances.

Federal practitioners likely recall back around 2006, when non-U.S. citizen clients housed at standard federal correctional facilities were effectively rounded up and transferred en masse to BOP contract facilities. As Costantini and Rivas’s article highlights (and demonstrates through excellent graphs), that effort coincided with Operation Streamline, an escalation of federal illegal reentry prosecutions that coincided with private prison corporations making substantial financial expenditures “promoting their services.”

The ramp-up in enforcement prompted a spike in immigration beds across three federal agencies. Today, the Bureau of Prisons’ contracts provide more taxpayer dollars to private prison companies than facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In the last five years, the two largest prison companies have made nearly $2 billion in revenue from their CAR prison agreements.

In the years leading up to the crackdown, private prison companies spent more money than ever lobbying the federal government. The two largest companies — Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and The GEO Group — have also long supported elected officials whose legislative efforts result in more business for them. Both companies insist their lobbying dollars focus on promoting their services and not shaping laws.

Costantini and Rivas also give attention to the number of former BOP and DOJ officials who have gone on to work for private prison corporations. For instance, Former Director Harley Lappin, who retired from the BOP on May 7, 2011 with at a reported salary of approximately $180,000, was named CCA’s Executive Vice President and Chief Corrections Officer on June 1, 2011, where he earned a reported $1.5 million in 2013.

Harley Lappin oversaw the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) when it awarded five immigrant prison contracts to GEO, three to CCA, and one to another private prison company.[…]

In Washington, moving from the public sector to the private sector is not uncommon for government officials. But in the prison industry “the revolving door” is worse than in other sectors, according to [Texas state Sen. John Whitmire].

“It poses a conflict of interest if they don’t have an arm’s-length relationship when they’re doing their official duties,” said Whitmire, who believes the issue needs more oversight.

“You certainly wouldn’t want people lining up their next job doing favors for the people they want to go work for,” he said.

CCA did not respond to a request for comment regarding Lappin’s current or former role in negotiating contracts. The company said in statement it is “committed to accountability and transparency in [their] government affairs practices.”

In addition to private prisons questionable costs savings and evidence of “pervasive patterns of neglect and abuse of the prisoners,” Costantini and Rivas separately offer a compelling visual review of how private prisons have transformed rural America.

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