In August, the Justice Department announced that it would phase out its use of private prisons, which profit off the incarceration of roughly 22,0000 inmates at the federal level (this decision does not affect state prisoners). Only about 12 percent of the United States inmate population are locked away in private prisons, but at least this seemed like a move in the right direction.
The Department of Homeland Security, however, does not appear to be on board. On Wednesday, Mother Jones reported that the DHS had opted to renew one of its most criticized contracts with private prison behemoth Correction Corporations of America. The contract will allow CCA to continue running the South Texas Family Residential Center (aka family prison) in Dilley Texas, which incarcerates the majority of the country’s mother and child detainees. It is the largest family detention center in the country.
But wait, it gets worse. In the new contract CCA has agreed so not generously to reduce the facility’s costs by 40 percent without reducing the inmate population (there are currently 2,400 beds). As Mother Jones reporter Samantha Michaels points out, most of that money will be saved by reducing prison staff, which could deteriorate the families’ quality of life even further:
“That could be bad news for immigrants who have complained in the past of an understaffed medical clinic and widespread illness among child detainees. Mothers at the Dilley facility have said it’s not right to hold them and their kids in prison-like conditions, especially after they escaped gang violence and other trauma in their home countries. Understaffing at another CCA-run prison, in Louisiana, coincided with high rates of assault, a Mother Jones investigation found.”
Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Houston Press that the contract renewal was publicized just weeks after Immigrant and Customs Enforcement’s advisory committee on family detention recommended that ICE end the practice of family detention entirely.
DHS is currently evaluating seven other contracts with CCA-run detention facilities, all of which CCA CEO Damon Hininger expects to be renewed. Hininger told the Tennessean on Tuesday that it would be too expensive for the federal government to end its contract with CCA. Meanwhile, CCA shares climbed last week after the renewed contract in Texas was announced.