For-Profit Immigration Jails Face Shutdown

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State legislatures are considering measures to shut down the privately run immigrant detention facilities that were part of the dramatic expansion of the private prison industry but have since fallen out of favor with the new administration in Washington, D.C., reports NPR. President Joe Biden has instructed the Justice Department to phase out private prisons that incarcerate federal offenders, ordered ICE to arrest fewer immigrants, and signaled an interest in alternatives to immigrant detention. Opponents to detention for profit believe migrants who have committed no crime and who came to the U.S. seeking asylum should not be incarcerated while their cases are pending. Critics also say private operators prioritize profits over the well-being of detainees. Former President Donald Trump’s separation of families, which led to mothers being locked up in for-profit facilities, further inflamed opponents. Meanwhile, major banks have stopped lending to the two publicly-traded prison companies, CoreCivic and GEO Group. And last month, Wall Street further lowered their bond ratings, citing large debt repayments and hostile operating conditions under the new Biden administration.

However, as elected bodies in towns with these prisons have become more responsive to public outcry, private prison companies have found a workaround, contracting directly with a prison operator and avoiding the usually messy public meetings that localities often host to a forum for public complaints. ICE says it has to have a place to detain deportable immigrants, about one-third of whom have criminal charges. The same thing happened on an even larger scale in California, where, two weeks before a sweeping state law that would have phased out for-profit detention went into effect last year, ICE quietly signed long-term contracts with three companies to keep their facilities open.  Since then, the population of ICE detainees has plunged from a peak of more than 56,000 to about 15,000 today because of concerns over COVID-19 contagion in living quarters.

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