Nearly half of all immigrants detained by federal officials are held in facilities run by private prison companies, at an average cost for each detained immigrant is $166 a night. That’s added up to massive profits for Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group and other private prison companies:
A decade ago, more than 3,300 criminal immigrants were sent to private prisons under two 10-year contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons signed with CCA worth $760 million. Now, the agency is paying the private companies $5.1 billion to hold more than 23,000 criminal immigrants through 13 contracts of varying lengths.
CCA was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2000 due to lawsuits, management problems and dwindling contracts. Last year, the company reaped $162 million in net income. Federal contracts made up 43 percent of its total revenues, in part thanks to rising immigrant detention. GEO, which cites the immigration agency as its largest client, saw its net income jump from $16.9 million to $78.6 million since 2000.
As the AP explains, these remarkable profits come in the wake of an equally remarkable lobbying campaign. In the past decade, three major private prison companies spent $45 million on campaign donations and lobbyists to push legislation at the state and federal level. At times, this money has gone to truly nefarious legislation. A 2011 report found that the private prison industry spent millions seeking to increase sentences and incarcerate more people in order to increase the industry’s profits. 30 of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored Arizona’s now mostly invalidated immigration law — which would have landed many more people in detention — received campaign contributions from private prison lobbyists or companies, including CCA and GEO. According to a report released last year, CCA spent over $900,000 on federal lobbying and GEO spent between $120,000 to $199,992 in Florida alone during a short three-month span in 2011. $450,000 went to the Republican national and congressional committees, while Democrats received less than half that number. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) were also among the private prison lobby’s top benefactors.
Private prisons have also been found guilty of abuses ranging from understaffing facilities to bribing judges to sentencing juveniles with minor offenses to disproportionately long terms in privately-owned correctional facilities. A recent report found a Georgia prison run by CCA charges detainees $5 a minute for phone calls while paying them just a dollar a day for menial labor that keeps the facility running; immigrants in civil detention centers have been exploited by the same program.