How Do Prisons Profit From Immigrant Detainees?

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According to current estimates county jails get $35 a day for regular prisoners from the federal government. They get between $75 to $100 a day for immigrant detainees. We take a look at how the prison industrial complex is profiting from the fastest-growing group of prisoners in the nation.

Immigrants held for deportation are the fastest-growing group of prisoners in the nation. According to the “Monthly Detention Report” published within the Department of Homeland Security- while the number of persons in state prisons increased by one-third between 1994 and 2002, the number held in BCIS (Bureau of Customs and Immigration Services) and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) custody increased by 177 percent. Special Registrations for immigrants from more than twenty countries started in January this year and the federal government’s 2003 budget on locking up immigrants is $ 743 million.

According to current estimates, for regular prisoners, county jails get 35 dollars a day from the federal government and use up the entire amount. They get between 75 to 100 dollars a day for immigrant detainees and end up spending no more than what they spend for regular prisoners. The private prison industry has been quick to notice this lucrative potential for profit. Steve Logan the chairman of the Cornell Corrections, a private corrections company said in a meeting with his shareholders recently “It is clear that since September 11 there’s a heightened focus on detention, more people are gonna get caught. So I would say that’s positive-The Federal Business is the best business for us and September 11 is increasing that business”.

Cornell Corrections however has ended up with the least number of contracts. The bulk have gone to the Corrections Corporation of America in Tennessee and Wackenhut in Florida- two of the biggest private corrections corporations in the country. We spoke to representatives of both and they declined our requests to join us on the show.

As a conclusion to our special three-part series on September 11- two years later we host a discussion on how the US prison industry is benefiting from the continuing detentions and deportations of immigrant populations.

  • Judith Greene, criminal justice policy analyst and Justice Fellow at the Open Society Institute. He is the author of “Entrepreneurial Corrections: Incarcerations As a Business Opportunities”
  • David Venturella, Deputy Director for Detention and Removal Operations and at the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
  • Agatha Joseph, mother of 22 year old J. Joseph, whose first name we cannot reveal. Agatha is a US citizen and her daughter who is a green card holder came to the US when she was 12. At age 17- Joseph pleaded guilty to marijuana possession, got community service, thought it was all settled. In 2000 she took a brief trip back the tiny Caribbean island of St Lucia to visit her sick grandmother. Upon her return she was stopped at the airport, charged as inadmissible and kept in detention for three years in 4 different states. After a successful federal court petition Joseph was finally released in March this year. She is now back at home in the Bronx- severely psychologically shaken and on anti depressants. Her deportation case is not yet over.
  • Aarti Shahani, from Families for Freedom who has been working with the Joseph family and many others caught up in the cycle of unending detentions.

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