DHS to Review Private Immigration Detention Centers

Weeks after the Department of Justice announced its decision to end the use of private prisons, the Obama Administration has announced that it is considering ending the use of for-profit detention centers to hold immigration detainees. 

The decision by DOJ only applied to prisons under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons which excludes detention centers used by the Department of Homeland Security who oversees immigration services and border patrol. Last month, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson ordered a review of ways for the department to end its use of private facilities. 

A decision to stop using private facilities would be a major win for immigration and civil rights groups. “We certainly see a lot of these problems magnified when a company is seeking to extract as much profit as it can out of a detention center,” the executive director of Grassroots Leadership, Bob Libal, told the Los Angeles Times.

Currently, federally run immigration centers hold a significantly higher population of detainees than privately contracted centers. While immigrant advocacy groups view this possible move as a necessary improvement, officials from Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) are not supportive of the idea arguing that the department currently has no cost-effective alternative to private facilities. According to sources from ICE, moving thousands of incarcerated immigrants could take decades and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. 

Nine of the nation’s ten largest immigration detention facilities are operated by private corporations who hold two-thirds of the 31,000 detainees held in custody on an average day. The detainees are made up of those who entered the country illegally as well as asylum seekers, and those awaiting immigration hearings. Some officials have warned that if private detention centers are closed, detainees could be sent to state and local jails where conditions are worse. 

The recent moves by DOJ and DHS shed light on the growing concerns of how America’s incarcerated population is managed. 

“The fact of the matter is that private prisons don’t compare favorably to Bureau of Prisons facilities in terms of safety or security or services,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in an August memo instructing DOJ officials to allow private prison contracts to lapse. “Now with the decline in the federal prison population, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to do something about that.”

The Homeland Security Advisory Council convened by Secretary Johnson is expected to make its recommendation on ending or not ending the use of contract prisons by the end of November. 



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