The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) held its quarterly conference call last week. We have previously reported that CCA has excess capacity and that trend continues; company officials mentioned they had unoccupied 12,500 beds in their system. As a result there are no immediate plans to build new CCA prison beds.
CCA currently operates 65 prisons, including 44 company-owned facilities that include 89,000 beds in 19 states and the District of Columbia. Currently, the company’s biggest customers are the state of California and the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).
During the call, CCA officials made assumptions that states and the federal government would soon need new beds to accommodate a growing prison population despite current budget constraints. The BOP is reportedly over capacity by 36%; while CCA claimed state prison systems exceed capacity by 12,000 prisoners.
Company representatives went on to mention that while current state prison demand is anemic, potential state customers are not authorizing new beds making the company’s excess capacity readily available for new contracts.
It’s a good thing that while CCA profiteers are struggling to find new customers for their excess supply that state legislators are rethinking criminal justice policies. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that state prison systems declined by nearly 3,000 beds in 2009; prison populations declined in 20 states. While tight budgets are a salient feature they are not the sole contributing factor. Our own Judy Greene co-authored a report earlier this year along with my Sentencing Project colleague Marc Mauer, entitled Downscaling Prisons: Lessons from Four States. In that report, Judy and Marc document legislative and administrative reforms that predate the current recession and contributed to the states of New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and Kansas all reducing their prison populations while maintaining public safety.
While there is movement at the state level, federal demand remains steady driven significantly by the need for capacity in the immigrant detention system. During the CCA call, company officials mentioned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) population numbers 33,000 persons in detention. To meet demand, BOP issued several requests for proposals to add new beds to their system. These requests seek to contract with existing facilities and not new ones. One proposal request would add a new prison in either Texas, Arizona, or Oklahoma and would require a capacity of 1,200 beds.
CCA’s excess supply of prison beds shows that policy reforms - legislative or administrative -- can reduce the need for prison capacity. It further indicates that state policy makers can make other choices when confronted with how to maintain public safety. But, the steady demand from the federal government indicates that there continues to be an over-reliance on confinement as social policy -- the reason why the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. But steps can be taken at the federal level - in immigrant detention and the prison system to reduce overall capacity and undermine CCA’s efforts to fill those 12,500 beds.
I'll be driving out to Taylor for the vigil this Saturday at Corrections Corporation of America's notorious T. Don Hutto detention center,
Please join Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and organizers from across Texas for a vigil to draw attention to the nation's unaccountable and out-of-control detention system. The vigil will mark the one-year anniversary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) announced detention reform and the end of family detention at Hutto. ICE currently heralds Hutto as a model detention center despite the recent revelation in May that a CCA guard was accused of sexually assaulting several women detained at this 500-bed facility.
Texas holds 10,000 beds in detention centers to date, with plans for continued expansion. Please join us to call for Dignity NOT Detention for immigrants. The vigil takes place starting at 7pm. For details or carpooling information, please email blibal at grassrootsleadership dot org.
Contact me for more information through our contact form.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has unveiled its long-awaited online detainee locator. The service makes it easier for families and advocates to find detainees in ICE's vast system of largely contracted private prisons and county jails. Before the service, there was no centralized way for family members to determine if and where their loved ones were being detained by ICE.
I tried the service out, and appears to be fairly workable. However, the system may be complicated by the growing criminal prosecutions of migrant border-crossers under programs like Operation Streamline. Because immigrants criminally prosecuted end up U.S. Marshals facilities awaiting trial, they don't end up in the ICE database until after they complete whatever sentence they may be given, a process that is often confusing the family members.
In other ICE-related news, I received news over email last week that, starting today, immigration hearings at GEO's South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall will be heard at the detention center and will not be handled via televideo to the immigration court in San Antonio. This should make it easier for detained immigrants to get a fair immigration hearing. However, for witnesses to hearings:
“When planning to observe an open hearing held within a detention facility, however, you should contact the detention facility in advance to learn of any security clearance requirements for entry to the building.”
A new "green paper" released Monday entitled Operation Streamline: Drowning Justice and Draining Dollars along the Rio Grande takes a look at the impact of Operation Streamline on the private prison industry. I co-authored the report for Grassroots Leadership, a sponsor of this blog.
Operation Streamline, initiated in 2005 in Del Rio and expanded to much of the Texas and Arizona border, mandates that immigrants apprehended at the border are detained, prosecuted, and incarcerated in the criminal system in addition to the civil immigration system. This is a departure from previous policy in which most immigrants were only dealt with in the civil immigration system.
The result has been a mess. In Texas alone, 135,000 immigrants now have criminal records and many have done real prison time under the Streamline before being deported (far from streamlining the process, the policy adds another layer of incarceration on top of the existing civil detention system).
While most researchers believe that the program hasn't deterred unauthorized immigration, the program has affected the judicial system in serious ways. The federal court system is horrendously over-booked. 54% of 2009's federal prosecutions across the country were for immigration violations. In the Southern District of Texas, a district that includes Houston, a full 84% of April prosecutions were for two immigration violations - unauthorized entry (1325) and unauthorized re-entry (1326). With a mandated focus on prosecution of immigration violations, diligence to other prosecutions has fallen off dramatically.
So, who wins in this scenario? Our research indicates that, since 2005, more than $1.2 billion in federal money has been spent on the detention and incarceration for unauthorized entry and re-entry in Texas alone. Nearly all of that prison beds - contracted by the US Marshals and Federal Bureau of Prisons - are operated by private prison corporations. Prisons like the GEO Group's Laredo Superjail, Emerald's LaSalle County Detention Center, and LCS's Coastal Bend Detention Center have sprung up around south and west Texas to win US Marshals contracts, largely driven by increased immigration prosecutions. Could it be that Operation Streamline is a billion dollar give-away to the private prison industry?
Check out the full report and a new blog on Operation Streamline at www.grassrootsleadership.org.