In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintained a record-high daily detention capacity of 34,000 beds, costing taxpayers $2bn. As of November 2011, the US government spent approximately $166 per day to hold one immigrant in detention. This is 18 times greater than the $8.88 per day it costs for more efficient, highly effective, and humane alternatives to detention.
The for-profit prison industry is the main beneficiary of the ever-expanding, unregulated immigration system in the US. Since 2001, private corporations have gained increasing control over immigration detention facilities in the US and continue to bring in record profits. In 2009, approximately half of the immigrant detainee population was housed in for-profit facilities as compared with 8 per cent of state and federal prisoners.
In 2010, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner and operator of privatised correctional and detention facilities in the US, grossed more than $1.7bn in total revenue. The GEO Group's contracts with ICE increased from $33.6m in 2005 to $163.8m by the end of 2010. These companies aggressively lobby DHS and Congress. CCA and GEO spent more than $20m on lobbying from 1999 to 2009.
Private immigration detention facilities are also particularly ripe for abuse, because there is little federal oversight to ensure that applicable standards are enforced. The 2011 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention standards in place to guide operation of these facilities are not binding regulations and have not been applied to many for-profit detention facilities under contract with ICE. Without the threat of sanctions, compliance with these standards has been low and violations of these standards are pervasive. Since 2003, there have been 24 deaths in immigration detention facilities operated by CCA. In May 2010, a CCA guard at the T Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas was convicted in state and federal court of sexually abusing female detainees while transporting them to the airport.
A major report recently released by the ACLU "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia", documents serious violations of detainees' constitutional and human rights as well as ICE standards. The ACLU of Georgia report recommends that ICE stop detaining immigrants at the for-profit Stewart and Irwin County Detention Centers given the extent of the documented violations as well as the facilities' remote locations, which isolate detainees from their families and communities of support.
The private prison industry is committed to generating money for its investors. As a result, it feeds off of government policies that keep more people behind bars for longer periods of time and has incentives to cut corners.