Despite growing evidence that the private prison industry is neither humane nor cost-effective, for-profit incarceration has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, and nowhere has the boom been more obvious than along the United States’ southern border.
The tragedy of prison privatization is well-documented. For-profit institutions allow states to pass on overcrowding problems rather than solve them. There is lax attention to government regulations. This is a system designed for the benefit of its owners, not in the best interests of the state – or the prisoners themselves.
Almost half of all detainees held by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and US Marshall Service were held in private prisons as of 2012, and the rate of private incarceration of immigrants has grown at rates hundreds of times faster than the rates at government-run prisons. The US Bureau of Prisons spent about $600m on private prison contracts in the last fiscal year as private prisons have become the beneficiaries of ICE’s diversion of illegal immigrants to “civil detainment”.
Federal spending on immigrant detention in private centers has gone from $760m in 2002 to upwards of $1bn annually today.
In the circular economy of American politics, the money first travels through the coffers of lobbyists and legislators. The private prison industry spent $45m on lobbying in the past decade, much of it going toward legislation that would simply incarcerate more people. With the war on drugs slowing, the industry has taken up immigration as a profit center: Companies contributed to the campaigns of 30 of the 36 lawmakers behind Arizona’s “show your papers” law, and the industry has focused its attention on other border states as well, – all of which face overcrowding due in part to waves of immigrants.
The immigration crisis at the border has blessed – or cursed – potential contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential race: Rick Perry, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio have an opportunity to hone their rhetoric around the policy, balancing between calls for more forceful border defense and sympathy for the suffering children. Meanwhile, non-contenders can indulge in the dubious luxury of pure xenophobia.
To read Ana Marie Cox’s complete article in The Guardian, click here.