The Detention Watch Network has released some terrific data and graphs on the private prison industry's role in the United States' immigrant detention system. (Full disclosure: I'm on the Steering Committee of DWN, and Grassroots Leadership helped compile this research). Amongst the interesting findings, 49% of all immigrant detention beds in the United States are operated by private prison corporations. That is higher percentage of privatized beds than nearly any other state or federal agency.
Texas has more private immigrant detention beds - more than 10,000 - than any other state. Furthermore, some of the largest immigrant detention centers in the country are in Texas, including MTC's Willacy County Processing Center and GEO Group's South Texas Detention Center. The report includes a complete breakdown of every major private detention center by average daily population.
Furthermore, the report tracks the federal lobbying and influence exerted by the private prison industry to ensure its interests are met. According to the report:
"Between the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000.(1) In general, corporations lobbied both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most companies also lobbied the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The larger corporations (CCA and GEO) lobbied a variety of entities related to immigration policy, including the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of Management and Budget. Both CCA and GEO reported lobbying ICE directly."
The full report and data are well worth a read. Check them out here.
Last week, Grassroots Leadership (my organization and a co-sponsor of this blog) was one of 15 Texas-based civil and immigrant rights organizations to send a letter (PDF) to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano expressing opposition to the new GEO Group "civil" immigration detention center in Karnes County. Here's an excerpt from the press release that accompanied the letter:
A year ago, ICE announced sweeping reforms to its immigration detention system and a desire to move away from isolated detention centers. The advocacy groups expressed disappointment that ICE had used its reform mandate to construct new detention facilities for people who could be released on bond or into alternatives programs.
The letter also criticized the choice of for-profit prison corporation GEO Group as a partner for the new immigration detention center. ...
A number of GEO Group contracts were terminated in Texas in recent years after serious allegations of abuse and neglect. The suicides of Scot Noble Payne and Randall McCullough and subsequent investigations into squalid conditions preceded the closure of GEO’s Dickens County and Bill Clayton detention centers. In 2007, the Texas Youth Commission shuttered the GEO Group-run Coke County Juvenile Justice Center after a damning investigation into conditions at the youth detention center.
The coalition includes the ACLU of Texas, American Gateways, Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, Council on American Islamic Relations-TX, San Antonio, Grassroots Leadership, La Union del Pueblo Entero, People Organizing in Defense of Earth and her Resources, Redes Cuidadanas of Texas, Southwest Workers Union, Texans United for Families, Texas Civil Rights Project, Texas Indigenous Council, Texas Jail Project, WilCo Justice Alliance, and the Workers Defense Project.
As we reported last year, GEO was awarded an Intergovernmental Service Agreement to operate this new "civil" detention center on the same day it was sued by the ACLU over the death of Jesus Manuel Galindo at the company's Reeves County Detention Center. We'll be following this story closely and will keep you updated.
It was an interesting day for the GEO Group, perhaps Texas' most troubled private prison corporation. Yesterday morning, the ACLU of Texas said it was suing the company over the death of Manuel Galindo at the Reeves County Detention Center in west Texas:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas and El Paso co-counsel Mike Torres and Leon Schydlower today the filing of a lawsuit against the federal government and administrators of a West Texas for-profit prison on behalf of the survivors of Jesus Manuel Galindo. Mr. Galindo, 32, died on December 12, 2008, after suffering a seizure in solitary confinement where he had been placed for complaining about the facility’s failure to provide him medication to control his epileptic seizures. ...
The suit names as defendants individual employees of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, The GEO Group (which operates the for-profit prison), Reeves County and the facility’s contracted medical provider, Physicians Network Association (PNA).
This is the latest in the long and tragic case of the Reeves County Detention Center. At least nine immigrant prisoners have died in the facility in the last five years. Two uprisings that broke out as a result of the Galindo death cost the county, which owns the facility, over $1 million in repair costs. In the wake of the riots, the ACLU of Texas requested a Department of Justice review of the facility, and attorney Juan Angel Guerra was denied access to clients in Pecos. A year ago, family members of those incarcerated at Reeves joined protests at the Reeves Detention Center.
The GEO Group has had at least six facilities in Texas shuttered or contracts canceled. Notable incidents include the state of Idaho pulling its inmates from the Dickens County Correctional Center in the spring of 2007 in the wake of the suicide of inmate Scot Noble Payne and a subsequent investigation into "squalid" conditions at the lock-up. Idaho also cut its contract the Bill Clayton Detention Center in Littlefield, Texas after the 2008 suicide of Randy McCullough. In October 2007, the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center was shuttered by the Texas Youth Commission after a damning investigation into conditions at the youth detention center.
Despite that record, the company was today also awarded an Intergovernmental Service Agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to operate a new 600-bed "civil" detention center in Karnes County. The ink hasn't dried on that contract, and there will undoubtedly be a fight over the expansion of ICE's already massive detention system. We'll keep you posted on developments.
Following yesterday's story about the prison industry's involvement with the creation of SB 1070, Texas State Senator Eliot Shapleigh spoke some strong words against the bill and its creation, claiming that he would resist passing a similar bill in Texas. The Rio Grande Guardian (Steve Taylor, "Shapleigh: Private prison industry involvement in SB 1070 'despicable,'" October 29) reports:
State Sen. Eliot Shapleigh says stopping a bill similar to Arizona’s SB 1070 from being passed by the Texas Legislature will mean not only battling against racists but also the private prison industry.
“That the private prison industry writes a bill in secret to profit from an immigrant’s day in jail is despicable. America is better than that."
We encourage you to read the NPR article in its entirety, as it outlines the extent to which private prison corporations were involved with the drafting of the SB 1070 bill which would make the failure to carry immigration papers a misdemeanor and would also broaden the powers of Arizona police to detain those who are suspected of staying in the country illegally. This bill is important for private prison corporations because immigrant detention is the main crux of their business, and with an increase in immigrant detention comes an increase in profits.
In this same report by the Rio Grande Guardian, the U.S. Attorney General is quoted, challenging the constitutionality of the bill:
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder believes SB 1070 is unconstitutional, arguing that Arizona is trying to trump the federal government’s authority on immigration law. Holder instructed the Department of Justice to sue the State of Arizona and has won the backing of the U.S. Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke.
Arizona Senator Russell Pearce disagrees with the NPR article, and calls it a "lie:"
An NPR story about the origins of Senate Bill 1070 drew an angry response Thursday from its author, who said the radio account exaggerated the role prison lobbyists had in drafting it.State Sen. Russell Pearce, who first introduced a bill in 2003 to require law enforcement to question individuals about their immigration status, denied a report by NPR reporter Laura Sullivan that "Pearce's idea took shape" last year at a conference of conservative lawmakers and corporate interests.
"It's a lie," said Pearce... (Alia Beard and Casey Newton, "Sen. Russell Pearce: SB 1070 story 'a lie,'" AZ Central, 29 October 2010.)
If you are interested, we have recently investigated the extent to which prison corporations are donating to Texas campaigns politics. You can also see 2009 lobbying figures here. The NPR report on prison companies' involvement with Arizona legislation is extremely disturbing, but it has been an ongoing problem. We are glad that the story has caught the headlines in such a manner so that other Texas legislators, not just Shapleigh, can see the prison industry for what it truly is.