Before the recent elections, it looked like the United States was on its way to do away with private prisons. In August, the US Department of Justice announced that it was cutting ties with prison corporations.
Subsequently, and following sustained advocacy by human rights organisations for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to follow suit, Jeh Johnson announced that DHS would also review its continued reliance on private corporations.But once Donald Trump was announced the winner of the presidential election, there was no longer a need for rebranding.
Stock prices for the two largest private prison corporations skyrocketed at the prospect of a president who has made it clear that he is a fan of private prisons.
Trump has also vowed to lock up even greater numbers of immigrants, which will further feed the private prison industry. Currently, 73 percent of detained immigrants are held in facilities operated by corporations.
Locking up more immigrants, and expanding the private prison sector, would mean more taxpayer money spent on maintaining a failed system with a documented atrocious record of abuse, aimed at cutting corners to maximise profits and shortchange detained immigrants and workers.
Studies have shown that private prisons, in fact, do not save money and may cost more than prisons operated by the government. In some communities, such as Hardin, Montana, the financial arrangements with prison corporations have actually hurt the fiscal standing of the locality.
Abuse in such facilities has also been well-documented. Just earlier this year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tried to force-feed a hunger striker, Alaa Yasin, in the CCA-run Stewart Detention Center in Georgia.
Yasin is a stateless Palestinian who was unlawfully held by ICE at Stewart, the second largest immigration detention facility in the US. He was on a hunger strike for three weeks in April and early May to protest his illegal detention.
According to US Supreme Court precedent, since his deportation was not reasonably foreseeable, the government should have let him out much earlier. Instead, the government kept him detained and attempted, without success, to obtain a court order to force-feed him. Even after Yasin agreed to eat on his own, he was still put in solitary confinement.
Per the most recent news, the detained immigrant population will likely jump to 47,000 by June 2017, the highest number that ICE has ever held.
In its frantic search to imprison this many people, the administration is reportedly even planning on relying on privately operated facilities that were formerly used by the Bureau of Prisons and which were due to close because of substandard conditions.
This lack of care for detained immigrants has had tragic consequences; at least 165 people have died in immigrant detention since 2003.
Earlier this year, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention visited various detention centres in the US and were able to interview currently detained immigrants. The Working Group recently released their preliminary findings; in them, it calls on the US government to reduce detention, end its use of private detention facilities, and end mandatory detention, among several other recommendations.
We should act to ensure that the administration heeds these recommendations, immediately cuts ties with private corporations, and shuts down corporate-run immigrant detention centres.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘The US must stop using private prisons’.