Shadow Prisons

There is a shadow prison system exclusively created for immigrants, operating in secrecy and with no programs to support those inside

Image credit: Terri Burke

In addition to the mass detention of immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), there are roughly 25,000 prison beds used daily by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to incarcerate immigrants for federal crimes including unauthorized entry, reentry and drug crimes.

In 2005, the government put in place Operation Streamline, a program that created an expedited process for the criminal prosecution of individuals apprehended at the border (often 70 or more people at a time), with virtually no due process protections. The program expanded the number of federal prosecutions dramatically. These individuals and other immigrants prosecuted for federal crimes are incarcerated by BOP in immigrant-only shadow prisons, which the government calls Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons.

These shadow prisons are managed by the BOP and are entirely operated by private prison companies with an appalling record of abuse and mismanagement, including the excessive use of solitary confinement. Shadow prisons often lack basic programming and drug treatment, with officials arguing that most immigrants with federal convictions will eventually be deported and are therefore not deserving of the support.

Shadow prisons, largely due to the deplorable conditions and extreme sentences, have also experienced organizing and rebellion on the inside. In February 2014, 2,000 of the 3,000 immigrants held at Willacy County Correctional Center — a former detention center converted into a shadow prison — led an uprising that not only dismantled the structure of the facility itself, but led to its closure.

Image credit: Carl Takei

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