Privatized Prison Corporation Promotes, Profits from Anti-Immigration Laws
National Public Radio reported in October 2010: "NPR spent the past several months analyzing hundreds of pages of campaign finance reports, lobbying documents and corporate records. What they show is a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to help draft and pass Arizona Senate Bill 1070 by an industry that stands to benefit from it: the private prison industry."
The NPR news story focused on the nation's largest for-profit prison corporation – CCA – and its entanglement with Arizona Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070.
At the time SB 1070 passed into law, it was the nation's most severe anti-immigrant law.
NPR reported that "law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them."
NPR found CCA reports in which corporate leaders believed they could generate significant revenues from the federal government's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by holding in prison undocumented immigrants.
For those who discount NPR as a liberal news program and are thus skeptical about a report that connects unmitigated greed to anti-immigration laws, please consider a March 2011 report from Bloomberg Businessweek.
"ICE pays CCA about $90 a day per person to keep immigrants behind bars and to manage every aspect of detainees' lives, running its prison much as the government does. The main difference is that CCA locks people up for profit," read the news story.
"Since the company started winning immigrant detention contracts in 2000, its stock has rebounded from about a dollar to $23.33" a share, according to the business journal.
CCA has a vested interest in a culture of fear and suspicion toward the undocumented and state laws that crack down on immigrants without papers.
Is there an overlap between CCA prisons and states with an anti-immigrant fever – aside from Arizona?
"CCA manages approximately 75,000 inmates including males, females and juveniles at all security levels, in more than 60 facilities under contract for management in 19 states and the District of Columbia," according to the CCA website.
One of those states is Georgia, where two of the six CCA-run prisons are jails for undocumented immigrants.
The North Georgia Detention Center's "customer base" with 502 beds is "immigration and customs enforcement." It is located in Gainesville, home of the current governor, who is a Southern Baptist and recipient of CCA campaign funds.
As a congressman, Nathan Deal introduced the "Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009," a bill that would have removed the birthright of U.S. citizenship for babies born to undocumented immigrants but allowed it if one parent were a U.S. citizen.
Another Georgia prison is the Stewart Detention Center, which lists its "customer base" as "immigration and customs enforcement."
With its corporate headquarters in Nashville, CCA has six prisons in Tennessee.
According to Nashville's City Paper, CCA had five registered lobbyists in 2010 in Tennessee and runs an immigration detention center in Mason.
One of the recipients of CCA campaign contributions is state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro), who has supported anti-immigration laws and promises to introduce a harsh anti-immigration bill in 2012.
CCA has three prisons in Oklahoma, a state that had the most draconian anti-immigration laws before Arizona passed SB 1070.
The Tulsa World reported that Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has received CCA money.
Texas has 12 CCA-run prisons. The 1,000-bed Houston Processing Center has the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as its "customer base." The smaller Laredo Processing Center and T. Don Hutto Residential Center have the same "customer base."
Businessweek reported, "In Houston, ICE is paying CCA to hold about 1,000 alleged illegal immigrants while they are processed for potential deportation."
Some critics of prisons for profit allege that private prisons cut costs that in turn negatively affect prisoner safety and health for the sake of corporate profits.
Others contend that prisons for profit don't save the state more money than public prisons.
The moral critique of prisons for profits is not new, however.
Over a decade ago, the United Methodist Church said that "trends toward privatizing prisons have raised the specter of prisons operated not for rehabilitation but only to maximize profit for shareholders."
Methodists said that prisons for profit "have little incentive to rehabilitate prisoners or to prevent recidivism. Indeed, it is in their economic interest to have more crime, more incarceration, and more recidivism, all of which lead to more profits. The logic of the profit motive is to cut costs. In privately operated prisons, this is usually achieved by cutting staff, payroll, benefits, supplies, security, and rehabilitation programming for prisoners."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said in November 2000: "We bishops question whether private, for-profit corporations can effectively run prisons. The profit motive may lead to reduced efforts to change behaviors, treat substance abuse, and offer skills necessary for reintegration into the community."
Several years later, the Catholic bishops of the South said, "We are ... deeply troubled that the private prison industry has actively supported institutions that lobby for harsher sentencing laws, which increase the prison population."
These moral critiques are as relevant today as they were earlier. They also can be applied to CCA's motive for supporting anti-immigration laws.
One should not overly blame the prisons-for-profit industry for the nation's anti-immigration ethos. But it would be naive to think that they deserve a pardon from their role in marring the common good related to the undocumented in their pursuit of profit.