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Ahead of Today’s House Detention Oversight Hearing, Newsweek Highlights Increased Spending on a Private Prisons With Documented Records of Abuse

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In light of the upcoming House hearing on the oversight of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, a Newsweek article yesterday underlines the extraordinary increase in spending by the administration for the largest private prison corporation in the world, The GEO Group. The GEO Group, infamous for its immigrant detention centers and rampant mistreatment of immigrants, received over $595 million from the administration. The majority of the money is going directly to immigrant detention, specifically to a prison that, in many cases, has faced scrutiny over its ill-treatment of inmates and immigrant detainees. 

These new insights underscores the role of for-profit and systemic issues related to the inhumane treatment of immigrants at the hands of the administration and the blatant efforts from the Department of Homeland Security to not only turn a blind eye to these facilities but to encourage the mistreatment. 

In Newsweek’s “Trump Administration has Doubled Private Prison Spending with Most Money Spent on Detaining Immigrants: ‘They are not a threat to public safety,’ Advocates Say,” reporter Chantal Da Silva writes about these spending implications. The piece is excerpted below and available online here and includes helpful graphics: 

Under the Donald Trump administration, the U.S. has more than doubled its spending on services from one of the biggest private prison companies in the world, with the majority of that spending going towards the detention of immigrants across the country.

In the first 11 months of fiscal year 2019 alone, the U.S. has seen more than $595 million in obligated spending dedicated to The GEO Group, a Florida-based for-profit correctional institutions company operating prisons around the world, according to the U.S. government’s federal spending website.

The total is more than double the nearly $260 million that the U.S. government obligated to The GEO Group under the Barack Obama administration in 2014, five years ago, with the amount dedicated to the private prison company seeing a sharp spike in President Donald Trump’s first year in office, 2017, and steadily increasing over the following two years.

… “At the end of the Obama administration, the Department of Justice had announced a phasing out of private prisons,” [Kara Gotsch, the director of strategic initiatives at The Sentencing Project, an organization advocating for prison reform] noted. “But, with the Trump administration, he appointed Jeff Sessions as attorney general and they quickly reversed that phase-out.”

While Sessions has long since been ousted at the White House, his efforts to undo the Obama-era order to roll back federal reliance on private prisons have persevered. A January 2018 memo leaked last year showed the Justice Department had even gone so far as to seek to identify inmates to transfer out of government facilities and into privately run prisons.

Still, Gotsch said, the number of inmates held in federal prisons across the U.S. has been on the decline.

Where is the money going?

So, why the boost in spending on a for-profit prison company like The GEO Group? Immigrant detention appears to be the answer.

Of the $595 million the U.S. has obligated to The GEO Group in fiscal year 2019, in excess of $323 million, or more than 53 percent, was money obligated from the budget of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which oversees the detention of immigrants held under federal custody.

“Most of that money is going to ICE detention, which isn’t surprising,” Gotsch said.

While rates of federal imprisonment are going down overall, under the Trump administration, communities across the country have seen widespread “targeted enforcement operations,” with some raids leading to the arrests of hundreds of people at a time.

“When the Trump campaign came into office on a wave of nativism and xenophobia and a war on immigration, the [private prison] market was revived,” Judy Greene, a criminal justice policy analyst and the founder of Justice Strategies, a nonprofit research organization focused on cost-effective approaches to criminal justice and immigration reform, told Newsweek.

However, Greene warned, companies like The GEO Group could suffer in the long-run due to their role in helping the Trump administration enforce its hardline immigration policies.

“Their participation with this extraordinarily harsh immigration enforcement regime has tarnished their image with the public to a [significant] extent,” Greene said.

This past year, Greene noted, a number of major banks have sought to distance themselves from the private prison industry, including firms like The GEO Group, with banks including Wells Fargo and SunTrust refusing to provide future financing to private prison giants.

“They are now pulling back from financing these companies and so it’s a very troubling picture for [firms like The GEO Group],” she said. “I should think they are quite worried.”