The United States has the largest immigrant detention infrastructure in the world with over 400,000 individuals passing through detention each year. The expansion of the system is in part due to an arbitrary quota from Congress that requires the incarceration of 34,000 immigrants in detention at any given time. This policy, known as the detention bed quota is unprecedented; no other law enforcement agency operates on a quota system. “. . . at a current cost of over $2 billion each year, immigration detention quotas are a way for the private prison industry to protect their bottom line.” (from Detention Watch Network) See Public Law 114-4, Section 544, 114th Congress.

Comprehensive immigration numbers compiled by Detention Watch (2009) are staggering; ICE had an adult average daily population (ADP) of 32, 606 in a total of 178 facilities. Of these, 15,942 detainees—or 49%—were housed in thirty privately-operated detention centers. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is the largest private contractor of ICE detention beds. The company operates a total of 14 ICE-contract facilities with a total of 14,556 beds. In 2009, CCA averaged a daily population of 6,199 detained immigrants. Since then the number has just gone up and up, with no sign of reduction.

The 2015 report, “Banking on Detention: Local Lockup Quotas & The Immigrant Dragnet”, published by Detention Watch Network and the Center for Constitutional Rights, provided more updated information. The number of people detained each year increased from 2009 to a record-breaking 477,000 in fiscal year 2012. As of 2015, 62% of immigration detention beds were operated by private prison companies. “This interdependent relationship with private industry has produced a set of government-sanctioned detention quotas that insure profits for the companies involved while incentivizing the incarceration of immigrants.” Accordingly, a large portion of the over $2 billion in fiscal year 2016 budget for detention operations will ultimately go to for-profit contractors.

To exacerbate the situation, ICE’s contracts with private detention companies impose local lockup quotas, or “guaranteed minimums”. Guaranteed minimums require government payment to contractors whether beds are filled or not, and thus function as local lockup quotas. The report concludes “. . . the growth of local lockup quotas is inextricably linked to the rise of corporate interests in immigration detention.” Publicly-traded prison corporation GEO Group has been most successful in getting guaranteed minimum clauses incorporated into their contracts, and thus their facilities now are often prioritized in order to fill local quotas. Among the reform recommendations contained in the report, the report “calls on ICE to stop contracting with private companies that lobby to pervert public policy via guaranteed minimums and other contractual giveaways.” “. . . that private sectors should not be rewarded for placing a price tag on the deprivation of liberty and the government should be held accountable for being a willful participant in this corrupted system.”

Outside Info

Migration Policy Institute – Profiting from Enforcement: The Role of Private Prisons in Immigration Detention