A new report makes a strong case for why the U.S. must reform its immigrant detention system.
A SCATHING watchdog report by the Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights adds fuel to the growing criticism against exorbitant taxpayer funding for private prison contractors.
Detention of any civil prisoner should be based on the severity of the alleged crimes, not on a bed quota that guarantees private prisons make a profit at the expense of human rights of detainees.
Congress should end the practice of guaranteeing minimum profits for corporations that now operate many U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities. The United States spends more than $2 billion a year to detain immigrants, and there are few signs that investment improves public safety.
The contracts between ICE and the private industry lack accountability or transparency. We do know that Congress requires ICE to operate at least 34,000 daily detention beds nationwide, and much of that work is farmed out to for-profit prison corporations. These contractors are paid regardless of whether the bed minimum is met. Here in Washington, the GEO Group runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma and is guaranteed a minimum of at least 1,181 beds. (ICE reports about 1,400 prisoners are currently detained there.)
Congress needs to get rid of this bed quota now and start exploring more alternatives to incarceration that have proved to reduce costs and keep families together. Remember: Many of these detainees pose no threat to society and have committed civil violations, such as overstaying a visa.
With a bed quota and discount pricing in place, there’s no real incentive for ICE agents to explore non-prison options like community monitoring that cost a fraction of the estimated daily $164 price tag of locking up each detainee.”
Federal elected officials also should ban a “tiered pricing” system that allows the contractors to give ICE discounted pricing when the number of detainees exceeds minimum guarantees. The report reveals troubling examples of how this practice leads some federal officials to pressure their employees to fill the beds.
With a bed quota and discount pricing in place, there’s no real incentive for ICE agents to explore non-prison options like community monitoring that cost a fraction of the estimated daily $164 price tag of locking up each detainee. Last month, The Seattle Times editorial board pushed for Congress to support a bill to end unnecessary detentions.
In Tacoma, reports of human-rights abuses have lingered for months, leading to hunger strikes and prison conflicts. The GEO Group’s contract to run the center expired in April, but it has been extended through June 30 as negotiations continue. The company insists it meets industry standards, providing “high quality services in safe, secure and humane environments, and … strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”
Nonetheless, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, recently wrote to ICE Director Sarah Saldaña imploring her to consider alternatives to detention. Short of this, he appropriately encouraged her to increase transparency in the negotiations with GEO Group and to set stricter standards that ensure human rights are not being abused.
Detainees should be more than a number to meet a quota.