Friday, August 24, 2012

The Cautionary Instruction: Immigration detainees drive private prison growth

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
August 24, 2012

At the end of 2010, state and federal correctional authorities housed over 1.6 million prisoners, a decrease of over 5,000 inmates from 2009. The prison population nationwide declined for the first time since 1972.

Logic would dictate that a decrease in incarceration would have an impact on the private prison industry. Not so, the federal government has picked up the slack for private prison entities.

In 2010, private prisons held about 128,000 or eight percent of the total prison population. From 1999 to 2010, the number of individuals held in private prisons grew by 80 percent, compared to 18 percent for the overall prison population.

Private prison growth was fairly predictable through 2008. However, when the economy soured some states began to look to prisons to cut costs and reduce government budgets. With that came scrutiny of private prison contracts.

The resulting losses for private prison companies were more than offset by the rapid expansion of federal detention pursuant to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Marshals Service.

According to a recently released report by The Sentencing Project, between 2008 and 2010, the number of privately-held inmates decreased by 1,281, while the number of privately-held detainees increased by 3,327. This growth was part of a larger trend to step-up efforts to find, incarcerate, and deport people who violate immigration laws.

The horrible attacks of 9/11 had an impact on immigration enforcement. The number of federal prisoners held in private prisons rose by 784 percent since shortly before 2001.
There are two basic concerns with prison privatization -- first, unsubstantiated claims of cost savings; and second, problems with oversight.

Last fall, Ohio became the first state to sell an existing state prison to a private prison company. A study by Policy Matters Ohio found that Ohio officials were not accurate with regard to their prison privatization savings projections.

A close look at the sale of the facility to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) suggested that that deal, rather than saving up to $3 million a year as the state projected, could instead wind up costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Municipal Corrections LLC, a privately owned detention center housing illegal immigrants in Ocilla, Georgia is in bankruptcy after getting local leaders authorize bond financing to expand the local jail from 512 beds to 1,201. Ocilla, a town of 10,000 people, is left hanging without revenue to pay on the bonds and delinquent taxes.

A recent prison riot at the Adams County Correctional Center in southwest Mississippi resulted in the death of a guard and the taking of hostages. The 2,567-bed prison, owned and operated by CCA, holds ICE detainees for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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