New Report: Private Prisons Fail to Ensure Safety and Dignity of Immigrants Held in their Facilities

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, December 1, 2016

Washington, DC — A new report, A Toxic Relationship: Private Prisons and U.S. Immigration Detention, released today by Detention Watch Network (DWN) builds on the overwhelming evidence that the privatization of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention exacerbates due process violations, egregious conditions and transparency concerns that are endemic to the immigration detention system. In addition, the report amplifies the experiences of 42 individuals who were or are held in privately-run detention centers.

The report comes as the Homeland Security Advisory Council subcommittee presents its findings later today from an investigation into the use of private prisons for ICE detention. Regardless of the subcommittee’s findings, A Toxic Relationship shows that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary, Jeh Johnson already has the evidence he needs to severe ties with private prison companies, a crucial step that the Department of Justice announced it is taking earlier this year. 

Over 73 percent of immigrants held in ICE custody are incarcerated in facilities operated by private companies. The two largest and most notorious companies, The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which is currently attempting a re-brand, have well documented track records of abuse, mismanagement and neglect. Both companies are heavily lobbying the federal government in the hopes of increasing their bottom line as detention numbers climb to over 40,000 people behind bars. In 2015, CCA and GEO received $765 million for immigration detention— more than double the $307 million they received in 2008.

“Shameful financial incentives have driven the unprecedented expansion of immigration detention, which is now at an all time high,” said Mary Small, Policy Director at DWN. “Rather than taking the obvious and necessary step of severing ties with private prison companies the federal government is doubling down on this toxic relationship. Right now, ICE is massively expanding immigration detention largely through private contractors.”

The report details four fundamental problems with the use of privately-run detention centers, as our research indicates that private contractors:

  • Seek to maximize profits by cutting costs -- and subsequently critical services -- at the expense of people’s health, safety and overall well-being;
  • Are not accountable, and often do not bear any consequences when they fail to meet the terms of their contracts;
  • Exert undue influence over government officials, and push to maintain and expand the immigration detention system;
  • Are not transparent, and in fact, fight hard to obscure the details of their contracts and operations from the American public.

The issues of cost-cutting and indifference towards immigrant lives was reaffirmed just this week as news broke of two more deaths at privately-run detention centers over Thanksgiving weekend, bringing this year’s total to 12. Raquel Calderon de Hildago died at the CCA operated Eloy Detention Center in Arizona on November 27th and Esmerio Campos died at the GEO operated South Texas Detention Complex (Pearsall) in Texas on November 25th. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention have found that inadequate medical care at detention centers has contributed to numerous deaths, and shine a particular spotlight on Eloy  —  the deadliest detention center in the country.

The lack of transparency is clearly demonstrated by DWN and the Center for Constitutional Rights’ ongoing Freedom of Information Lawsuit with the federal government. In July, a federal judge ruled that under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the government must release details of its contracts with private prison companies. The government chose not to appeal, but the private prison companies intervened to stop the release and filed an appeal of their own. This latest tactic by GEO and CCA to obscure the details of their contracts and operations from the American public demonstrates the dangerous degree to which they feel entitled to influence the government and block public’s right to know what their government is doing. 

“The big business of incarceration will only intensify under the President-elect’s anticipated deportation regime. In order to prevent further harm to immigrants and deaths in custody, Secretary Johnson must act now to severe ties with private prison companies and rapidly shrink the immigration detention system,” said Small. “Regardless of who is in the White House it is time to end the government’s relationship with this morally bankrupt industry.”

Read the report here:


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.