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America's Outsourced Immigration Prisons a Booming Business

Hundreds of thousands of immigrants, both legal and illegal, are at the center of a huge prisoner outsourcing business.

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Over the last couple of decades, county governments have joined the prisoner outsourcing bandwagon, commonly in collaboration with the private prison industry. CCA, GEO, and other private prison firms have seized on the opportunity of public financing to build and maintain the prisons they operate.

Today, there are scores of counties that have followed the example of Reeves County, building new prisons with project revenue bonds to house outsourced prisoners from federal agencies and state governments. These generally poor and rural counties now constitute a central component of America's prison outsourcing industry.

What started out as a privatization of a core responsibility of government has over the past 25 years evolved into a prison complex in which private investors and corporations are dominant but in which local government has a new and expanding role.

As seen in Reeves County, the prison business is a complex labyrinth that is run for profit by corporations such as GEO. Yet the booming private prison industry in Pecos and elsewhere is fundamentally dependent on the government for a steady supply of prisoners, for ever-increasing per-diems, and even for the capital to build and maintain the private prison labyrinth.

When the Bureau of Prisons signed the most recent contract with Reeves County to provide as many as 3,763 prison beds for "criminal alien residents," it was GEO Group, not the county, which announced the new contract. In its January 2007 media release to business publications, GEO Group boasted that it believed "that the Reeves County Detention Complex (the 'Complex') is the largest detention/correctional facility under private management in the world."

It's a part of a yet larger complex that is immensely profitable. At a time when most other industries are retracting, the private prison industry continues to boom. GEO Group experienced another record year in 2008, as its net income rose more than 14%.

Key to the prison complex's lustrous bottom line are the outsourced immigrant inmates of Reeves County. Even as they rioted to demand decent healthcare, these outsourced immigrants were a major source of profits for the private/public prison complex.

Tom Barry directs the TransBorder Project of the Americas Program ( www.americaspolicy.org) at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC. He blogs at http://borderlinesblog.blogspot.com.

 
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