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How Wall Street Profits from the Criminalization of Immigrants and Lobbies for More To Be Locked Up

Two Wall Street-backed powerhouses are making fat profits off of the private immigration detention system, and they're flexing their muscles in Congress.
 
 
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Over the past four years roughly a million immigrants have been incarcerated in dangerous detention facilities in our taxpayer-financed private prison system. A growing number of news reports and investigations confirm that for many of the people funneled into this system, it is a living nightmare. Children were abused, women were raped, and men died from lack of basic medical attention.

These facilities are run by two Wall Street-backed companies that actively promote the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants in the United States -the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group.

The T. Don Hutto immigrant detention facility in Taylor, Texas provides a now well-known example of the abuses that take place within private prisons for immigrants. Beginning in May 2006,the Don Hutto prison was used to house children and their parents who were on a path to deportation. Reports began to surface of widespread abusive treatment of immigrant children by staff of Corrections Corporation of America.  An ACLU lawsuit filed on the basis of documented cases of abuse finally led to the closing of the Don Hutto facility for housing families in 2008. After the children were excluded, the Don Hutto only held women detainees. But the abuses continued.  Evidence has surfaced that a number of women were sexually abused over the past two years in Don Hutto by CCA staff.  Sexual abuse, including rape, has been documented in several detention centers.

The other large private prison corporation contracted by the federal government to run immigrant prisons is the GEO Group. The GEO detention facilities have also racked up many reports and complaints of abusive treatment of immigrant detainees and corrupt staff practices that violate the basic human rights of prisoners. Last month we spoke with the sibling of a detainee in a GEO-run facility who was denied basic medical attention for lack of funds to pay. The detainee’s family had to raise funds to get their relative medical attention in the facility from GEO. Other GEO detainees have died from a lack of medical attention.

Another relative of a GEO detainee told us that prisoners who avoid getting on the wrong side of GEO guards could aspire, at most, to a job in the prison that pays 17 cents an hour for doing office work.

GEO recently agreed to pay restitution for its employees’ physical abuse of prisoners who were strip searched in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Texas, and New Mexico. In another case, GEO was ordered to pay $40 million in the wrongful death of a prisoner in its custody in Raymondville, Texas. GEO has also  been sued by seven children who were sexually assaulted by a guard while being held in a GEO facility.

Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), based in Nashville, Tennessee, and the GEO Group, a global corporation based in Boca Raton, Florida are the nation’s two largest prison companies. They run highly integrated operations to design, build, finance and operate prisons. GEO rakes in $1.17 billion in annual revenue, and CCA tops that at $1.69 billion. Together these companies are principal moving forces in the behind-the-scenes organization of the current wave of anti-immigrant legislative efforts, which, if successful, would dramatically increase the number of immigrant prisoners in over 20 states.

Following the Money

GEO CEO, George Zoley, was a Bush “Pioneer” who bundled more than $100,000 in contributions for the Bush-Cheney campaigns in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, GEO was successful in securing the contract to run the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

GEO hired the services of lobbyists who had held influential positions in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bureau of Prisons, Office of the Attorney General, and the office of then-Senate Majority Leader, George Mitchell, to lobby their former employers and Congress. Throughout 2005 and leading up to the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in December 2006, GEO and CCA spent a combined total of over $6 million on lobbying efforts.

 
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