Divided Homeland Security Panel Backs Private Prisons

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Immigration authorities should continue holding people accused of immigration violations in for-profit prisons despite complaints about safety and other problems, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security panel has concluded, the Los Angeles Times reports. Privately run detention facilities have long attracted criticism from immigration advocates and human rights groups for poor conditions and inadequate medical care. In a report issued yesterday, the panel said eliminating them would cost too much and make it harder for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to cope with sudden surges in the detainee population. “Use of these facilities will continue,” Karen Tandy, who led the panel, told the Homeland Security Advisory Council. “We’ve seen dramatic surges in detention.”

Using a mix of private and public facilities to house detainees now costs $3 billion a year. Using only government-run prisons would cost up to $6 billion, the panel found. Marshall Fitz of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, who helped draft the report, wrote a dissent saying evidence “points directly toward the inferiority of the private prison model.” The report passed the advisory council, although 17 of the 23 members signed on to Fitz’s dissent. Only five voted to pass the report as written. One voted against approval.

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