On the heels of the U.S. Department of Justice's (DOJ's) "important and groundbreaking decision" to phase out the use of private prisons, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has just signaled that it may follow in those footsteps—a move that would heed human rights advocates' call for the agency to end "prison profiteers in our inhumane immigration system."
In a statement released Monday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson says he asked the Homeland Security Advisory Council to establish a subcommittee tasked with evaluating "whether the immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] should move in the same direction" as the DOJ, with their findings to be submitted by Nov. 30.
Among those welcoming the news was Human Rights First's Jennifer Quigley, who said, "Private immigration detention facilities are inconsistent with international human rights standards and are largely unnecessary.”
"Secretary Johnson is right to look at this important issue and we look forward to the committee's recommendation, which we hope will mirror the Department of Justice's decision to abandon private prisons," she continued.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who last week had asked DHS to end private, for-profit detention, citing its "impact on detainees, the high cost to taxpayers, and the Department of Justice's recent decision," also praised the development.
"This step is a tacit admission that the corporations who profit by locking up desperate adults and children undermine our decency as a nation," Grijalva said. Until DHS also cuts its ties with the profiteers, its "association with this industry will continue to besmirch their reputation as servants of the American people, and prolong the black eye that for-profit detention has given our nation's reputation around the world," he said.
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If the agency does agree to phase out privately-run prisons, it would impact the vast majority of those ICE detains, who, as a recent report found, may face "egregious" violations of medical care standards.
As Alice Speri wrote at The Intercept following the Justice Department announcement:
While the Justice Department’s decision is set to impact 13 privately run federal prisons and some 22,660 prisoners, the potential impact of a similar decision by ICE would be considerably more significant for the agency. The ICE spokesperson said that 46 of the agency’s facilities are operated by private contractors. While the immigration detention population fluctuates, private contractors oversee a daily average of 24,567 detainees—out of the average 33,676 held in ICE detention each day. As of 2014, the immigration detention population had jumped 47 percent over the prior decade. Immigration advocates say that growth is both unjustified by public safety needs and sets the stage for neglect and abuse.
Calling on DHS to follow in the steps of the DOJ, the Center for Constitutional Rights previously said: "Locking up immigrants, including families and children fleeing extreme violence in Central America, should not be a source of profit for huge corporations, particularly given private contractors' terrible record providing inadequate medical and mental health care to dying immigrants."
"These corporations continue to fight our clients at Detention Watch Network to keep the financial terms of their contracts with the government secret—they know that public awareness of how their profiteering works may undermine their enormous influence over detention policy, which has given them control over 62 percent of immigration detention beds. It's time to end the role of CCA, GEO, and other prison profiteers in our inhumane immigration system," their statement read.
Bloomberg reports that the new development "caused shares of prison operators" like the largest for-profit prison companies, Corrections Corp. of America and GEO Group, "to plunge."