California Court Orders Ease of Prison Overpopulation: But Immigrant Detention Centers To Make Up For Lost Profit

jailcells.pngToday from NPR: The nation’s leading private jailers have a way of coming out on the winning end.

When state prison contracts have dwindled in the past, the private prison industry has traditionally helped make up for lost revenue from federal contracts, notably IMMIGRANT DETENTION CONTRACTS.

- Axel Caballero

May 23, 2011 | 12:27 PM | By Leslie Berestein Rojas

Now that California has been ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to reduce its prison population by tens of thousands of inmates, how might this affect the private prison companies that make money incarcerating not only criminals, but also immigrants awaiting deportation?

The state has two years to comply with the high court’s order, intended to relieve a lack of adequate medical and mental health care for inmates in an overcrowded prison system.

Depending on how it’s done, the downsizing could be a windfall for the private prison industry – or not. According to a story today in the New York Times, Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy “emphasized that the reduction in population need not be achieved solely by releasing prisoners early.” Other possibilities might include new prison construction – something that private jailers do quickly and cheaply – transferring more prisoners out of state, or using county facilities.

California has already made plentiful use of out-of-state private prisons, transferring thousands of prisoners to private jails in Arizona and beyond since 2007.

Even if the state opts to release prisoners rather than spend more on private contractors, the nation’s leading private jailers have a way of coming out on the winning end. When state prison contracts have dwindled in the past, the private prison industry has traditionally helped make up for lost revenue from federal contracts, notably immigrant detention contracts.

Over the last decade, these contracts have become a growing piece of the revenue pie for U.S. private prison companies, the largest of which is Corrections Corporations of America, based in Tennessee, followed by the Florida-based GEO Group, Inc. and Management and Training Corporation, a Utah company. A recent report from the Detention Watch Network, which advocates for detention reforms, detailed some of the lobbying that goes into keeping private prison beds filled. From the report:

Between the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was $20,432,000.

In general, corporations lobbied both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Most companies also lobbied the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The larger corporations (CCA and GEO) lobbied a variety of entities related to immigration policy, including the Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of Management and Budget. Both CCA and GEO reported lobbying ICE directly.

Corrections Corporation of America by far spends the most on federal lobbying, totaling $18,002,000 from 1999 to 2009.

CCA reported increased revenue from both state and federal contracts in its recently-released 2011 first quarter financial report, noting:

State revenue increased primarily as a result of higher inmate populations from the state of California and from the two expansions in Georgia we completed in May 2010, combined with the commencement of two new contracts during the third quarter of 2010 at managed-only facilities in Florida. The increases in populations were partially offset by reductions in inmate populations from the state of Arizona.

Last year, as the California prison population debate escalated, Capitol Weekly reported that CCA was reaping big profits from California prison contracts:

In three years, a private-prison construction and management company, the Corrections Corporation of America, has seen the value of its contracts with the state soar from nearly $23 million in 2006 to about $700 million three months ago – all without competitive bidding. Even in a state accustomed to high-dollar contracts, the 31-fold increase over three years is dramatic.

During the same period, the company’s campaign donations rose exponentially, from $36,750 in 2006, of which $25,000 went to the state Republican Party, to $233,500 in 2007-08 and nearly $139,000 in 2009. The donations have gone to Democrats, Republicans and ballot measures. The company’s largest single contribution, $100,000, went to an unsuccessful budget-reform package pushed last year by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

According to Capitol Weekly, CCA operates five out-of-state prisons holding California state inmates, among them prisons in Mississippi, Oklahoma, and three in Arizona.

Last year, NPR reported on the involvement of the private prison industry in drafting Arizona’s SB 1070 anti-illegal immigration law. Private prisons holding detained immigrants under contract to U.S. immigration and Customs Enforcement are paid a per-diem rate per detainee.

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