Did you know that the detention of immigrants is big business?
Over the last several years we’ve witnessed the disturbing trend of private, for-profit prison corporations benefitting from new anti-immigrant laws. These prisons operate like hotels, where each and every bed that is filled provides profits for the company. Every empty bed, on the other hand, costs money. These companies have a financial incentive to detain as many immigrants as possible, and they have poured millions of dollars into lobbying efforts ensuring maximum profits.
Here’s a great summary from the Associated Press (August 2, 2012):
The cost [of private detention] to American taxpayers is on track to top $2 billion for this year, and the companies are expecting their biggest cut of that yet in the next few years thanks to government plans for new facilities to house the 400,000 immigrants detained annually…
The growth is far from over, despite the sheer drop in illegal immigration in recent years.
In 2011, nearly half the beds in the nation’s civil detention system were in private facilities with little federal oversight, up from just 10 percent a decade ago…
The financial boom, which has helped save some of these companies from the brink of bankruptcy, has occurred even though federal officials acknowledge privatization isn’t necessarily cheaper.
This seismic shift toward a privatized system happened quietly. While Congress’ unsuccessful efforts to overhaul immigration laws drew headlines and sparked massive demonstrations, lawmakers’ negotiations to boost detention dollars received far less attention.
The industry’s giants —Corrections Corporation of America, The GEO Group, and Management and Training Corp. — have spent at least $45 million combined on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal level in the last decade, the AP found.
Needless to say, this is wrong. It’s wrong for private corporations to profit from the detention of immigrants. Many of those detained have never been convicted of a crime. And on top of that, these private prisons don’t even save taxpayers money – the primary argument in their favor to begin with.
What can we do? Spread the word. Push back against corporate interests that would hijack the common good and turn people into commodities to be bought and sold. Practically speaking? Here’s a great example from the United Methodist Church: divestment.
Is it moral for United Methodists to make a profit from the incarceration of people?
The United Methodist Church’s pension agency has pondered that question since May. The Board of Pension and Health Benefits announced Jan. 3 its decision to prohibit investments in companies that derive more than 10 percent of their revenue from the management and operation of prison facilities.
“It came down to that profiting from the incarceration of others was just not consistent with our view of what the (denomination’s) Social Principles ask for,” said David Zellner, the board’s chief investment officer.
The United Methodist Church backed up its words with actions. Other denominations have also made similar commitments. Check out the links below for more info and ways to take action:
- Dollars and Detainees: The Growth of For-Profit Detention
- Immigrants for Sale
- The Business of Detention
- Grassroots Leadership
- Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia
- “Immigrants’ detention profits companies” by the Associated Press
- “Immigrants prove big business for prison companies” by the Associated Press
- “Prison Economics Help Drive Ariz. Immigration Law” by NPR