On Tuesday, I participated in an Austin protest against Wells Fargo's holdings in private prison corporations GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America. The coalition of immigrant rights groups (including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families) called on Wells Fargo to divest of their holdings in the for-profit private prison industry.
Nearly half of the more than 33,000 immigration detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations, and the detention system will cost taxpayers more than $1.7 billion this year. Benefiting from this practice are companies like GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, as well a companies like Wells Fargo, that have invested in the growth of the private prison industry.
For more on the Austin protests, see the Grassroots Leadership or Texans United for Families facebook pages. And, for more photos and videos from other Wells Fargo protests around the country, check out the National Prison Divestment Campaign, coordinated by Enlace.
Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top five private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year. Our #2 story is the growing resistance amongst immigrant rights organizations and media to the for-profit private detention system.
In October of 2010, NPR reported that through its membership in ALEC, private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America was able to help draft model anti-immigrant legislation like Arizona's noxious SB 1070. The story would be a precursor to a host of organizing efforts, research initiatives, and media campaigns by immigrant rights groups around the country to expose the private prison industry's role in immigration detention policy. Here are some of the highlights:
1) In May, the Detention Watch Network (with the support of Grassroots Leadership, my organization) published data outlining that 47% of all immigration detention beds are operated by private prison corporations and that CCA and GEO Group have poured millions of dollars into federal lobbying expenditures over the last several years.
2) Enlace, an international coalition of worker and migrant organizations, launched a national prison divestment campaign with allies across the country. The campaign got an immediate boost when Pershing Square head Bill Ackman dumped his company's stocks in the Corrections Corporation of America. Since then, the movement has taken off with protests in front of GEO-investor Wells Fargo in around the country including here in Austin with actions taken by the Texans United for Families coalition.
3) Perhaps the most visually inspiring campaign has been the series of "Immigrants for Sale" videos produced by Cuentame and the Brave New Foundation. This series highlights the role of the private prison industry in benefiting from and propelling the growth of immigration detention. Check out the first video for an overview of what was to come:
Here's hoping for a 2012 filled with similar kinds of creative protests of the private prison industry.
The GEO Group has landed a contract renewal for its massive South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, according to a story at Government Security News ("GEO Group lands $236 million contract to house 1,800 ICE detainees in South Texas," December 27):
"The ICE unit of DHS has issued a $236.2 million contract to The GEO Group to provide detention services for 1,800 male detainees who have been taken into custody pending removal proceedings at the company-owned and company-operated South Texas Detention Center (STDC) in Pearsall, TX."
According to GEO investment calls that I've listened to in recent months, the bid for this contract was essentially non-competitive because it required an existing facility within a geographic area that essentially precluded other facilities from wining the re-bid. That said, one wonders if ICE paid much attention to the problems GEO has had operating this facility, including alleged sexual assaults, poor mental health care, and ongoing labor issues at the facility.
Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top five Texas private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year. Our #4 story of the year is Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "detention reforms" and their benefit to private prison corporations.
Back in 2009, many immigration reform advocates - including this author - were heartened when the Obama administration announced widespread reforms to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention system. Those reforms were kicked off with the end of family detention at the T. Don Hutto detention center. In fact, that change was our #1 story of 2009.
However, the promised broader reforms to the detention system - largely laid out in document called the Schriro report after its author Dora Schriro (who quickly left the agency) - have largely been a bust. 2011 was marked by record levels of detention and deportation. The far-flung ICE detention now holds more than 33,000 immigrants on any given day. Nearly half of those detention beds are operated by private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America, the GEO Group, and Management and Training Corporation. These companies pour millions of dollars into federal lobbying and campaign contributions.
That lobbying is apparently paying off. This month, Congress increased Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s budget by more than $50 million from last year, including an allocation for 34,000 daily immigration detention beds, up from 33,400 last year. Here in Texas, troubled private prison corporation GEO Group was awarded a contract to operate ICE’s first new “civil” detention center in Karnes County, Texas, despite opposition from immigration and civil rights advocates. (Similarly, Corrections Corporation of America is trying to win a contract for a new "civil" facility in South Florida, and private prison company Community Education Centers was just featured in a report about the role of campaign donations in winning an ICE-contracted detention center in New Jersey.)
Problems in ICE-contracted detention centers continue to be prevelant. In October, the ACLU of Texas filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women immigrants seeking asylum from sexual abuse and violence who have suffered sexual assault at the hands of detention officers. Also in October, Human Rights First documented the continued widespread use of jails to house immigration detainees in civil custody. PBS's Frontline outlined horrific conditions of confinement in ICE detention centers in its program "Lost in Detention."
Even some of the bright spots in the reforms have been bitter-sweet. When ICE announced that it would be ending its contract with MTC's notorious "tent city" detention center in Raymondville (the facility highlighted in the Frontline episode), the facility was immediately repurposed as a Bureau of Prisons-contracted facility for immigrants. Many of those immigrant prisoners in BOP custody are serving federal prison time for nothing more than re-entering the country after deportation under Operation Streamline.
Despite all this, 2011 saw some major resistance to for-profit immigration detention centers. More on that later in the week as we continue our top stories of 2011.