The Department of Homeland Security relies heavily on for-profit private prisons to house its thousands of detainees. The argument against the use of private prisons includes the dismal conditions in which the detainees live in, the lack of resources that are available to them (such as medical and legal services), and oversight in identifying urgent medical needs (an example of this being suicide attempts, suicides, sexual harassment, or sexual assault, etc). These facilities are run with the goal to increase profit margins which is a divergence from what the prison system has previously been. DHS’s reliance on private prisons is of concern for many because of what many investigations reveal about the treatment received in these facilities.
The reason for much of the concern of these statistics is the reputation these private prisons have garnered after several investigations. 20,000 grievances have been filed between 2017-2019 in addition to hundreds of sexual assault allegations, hunger strikes, lack of quality medical resources, fatalities, and other concerning evidence of abuse and/or inadequate treatment.
DHS has increased the gap in the reliance of private prisons in comparison to an agency under the Department of Justice– the Bureau of Prisons (BOP). BOP was ordered by the DOJ to gradually reduce its reliance on private prisons through a series of reforms. For example, DHS can hold up to 34, 040 beds daily, but in 2016 73% of immigrant detainees awaiting removal proceedings were housed in private prisons (compared to BOP’s 11% in 2016 and 13% in 2014). More recently in 2019, of the 55,000 people who were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency were housed in private prisons. It is important to also consider that the detainees in DHS’s facilities are detained for civil matters while BOP’s detainees are held for criminal proceedings (criminal proceedings being much more serious). In fact, most immigrants detained by ICE do not have a criminal record.
The business of detaining immigrants seeking asylum and refuge saw exponential growth in revenue and business as the Trump administration promised to do damage control on the increasing immigrant population. DHS continues to be the private prison system’s biggest federal client.