Do Immigrants Provide Good Business for Prison Companies?

According to some experts, private prison companies are profiting handsomely from the incarceration of undocumented immigrants. The federal government reportedly allots $2 billion annually to keep undocumented immigrants in custody. Each year, about 400,000 immigrants are incarcerated, about half of them in private facilities. The government decided to house some in private facilities because it was supposed to be more cost effective, but it appears that may not be the case.

The Associated Press recently looked at the costs by looking at a decade of records. According to the Associated Press findings, there is a close relationship between some private prison companies and those who create immigration enforcement policy – to the extent that some prison companies have grown and prospered after the passing of new detention bills.

Ten years ago, 10% of civil detention facilities were private. About half of prisoners today are part of the private system, which is ruled by three larger companies: The GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corp. Although experts agree that undocumented immigration is declining, however, the profits for these companies seem to be on the rise. In 2000, CCA faced bankruptcy while in 2011 the company had a net income of $162 million. Federal contracts comprised 43% of the revenues. In 2000, GEO had a net income of $16.9 million while by 2011 the company reported a net income of $78.6 million, in large part due to contracts with federal immigration agencies. The GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corp. have reportedly spent a minimum of $45 million for lobbyists and campaign donations in the past ten years, the AP reports.

GEO and CCA have stated that their donations and lobbying money are all legal and the companies allege that they have not tried to influence immigration policies. Immigration advocates are unconvinced and many are uncomfortable about the link between profits, lobbying, campaign donations, and the private prison companies. Immigration advocates also note that private prison companies have fewer rules regarding transparency than public facilities.

There are 250 sites for the detention of immigrants across the country. The cost of keeping an undocumented immigrant at one of the private facilities is $166 per night, the ICE has confirmed. This cost covers basic facilities, health care, food, and the salaries of guards at the facilities. According to the AP, the figure per night was $80 back in 2000.

According to experts, laws requiring the incarceration of undocumented immigrants were passed in the 1990s, when the rate of undocumented immigration increased. Between 2005 and 2007, however, an increasing number of immigrants were incarcerated, in part because the ICE got more funding for enforcement and custody. During that time period, the agency saw its budget increase from $3.5 billion to $4.7 billion. According to experts, the ICE has since then outsourced more, including outsourcing custody to prison companies. Despite the concerns raised about the prison companies, however, there are more private facilities being planned and built today and the ICE does not seem to intend to stem the outsourcing of the detention facilities.