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Wyden Bill to Strip Tax Breaks From Private Prison Industry Profiting From Child Detentions

"Companies that profit off of putting children in cages shouldn't get tax breaks."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at a town hall in Multnomah County, Oregon on Feb 25, 2017.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) at a town hall in Multnomah County, Oregon on Feb 25, 2017. (Photo: Joe Frazier, Flickr)

President Donald Trump's administration continues to detain migrants at the southern border in conditions that one expert believes approximate concentration camps, but those that profit off of migrant detentions may find the spigot of government cash isn't a renewable resource. 

A bill proposed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Thursday would strip private prisons of the ability to be considered real estate investment trusts (REITs). REITs allow for a special tax exemption that sees companies taxed at the individual rather than corporate level—or at the point of dividend payments for shareholders, but not at the point of profits for the companies. 

In a statement, Wyden explained why he believed the move was necessary, citing the moral imperative of the moment. 

"The private prison industry is booming, particularly with the Trump administration holding more immigrants in detention than any time over nearly the past 20 years," said Wyden. "Companies that profit off of putting children in cages shouldn't get tax breaks."

Bianca Tylek, the executive director of criminal justice reform group Worth Rises, told Common Dreams that her organization was "really excited" to see Wyden's bill. 

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"For years, private prison companies like CoreCivic have been getting away with paying as little as 4 percent in federal taxes due to their REIT structure," said Tylek. "How these companies make and hoard their money is appalling."

As Common Dreams reported on May 31, conditions in migrant detention centers have gone from bad to worse in recent months, in one case overcrowding a facility meant for 125 people with over 700 detainees.

"My proposal is simple," said Wyden. "Companies that make money from the Trump administration's inhumane immigration policy and a criminal justice system that disproportionately imprisons people of color are going to pay taxes like any other corporation."

In a statement, Wanda Bertram, communications director for the Prison Policy Initiative, said while Wyden's bill was a step in the right direction, there's more work to be done. 

"Eliminating rewards for private companies in the prison business is the right thing to do, but it unfortunately won't end mass incarceration or the caging of children," said Bertram. "What we need is radical criminal justice and immigration reform."

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