To understand how well the prison business is faring and how immigrants are key to prison profits, you can listen in on the prison firms’ quarterly conference calls with major Wall Street investment firms. In early November, the country’s prison corporations reported soaring profits. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s oldest and largest prison corporation, boasted that it enjoyed a $33.6 million increase in the third quarter over last year, while earnings rose 15%. Formerly known as Wackenhut, GEO Group, the nation’s second largest prison company, saw its earnings jump 29% over 2007. Another private prison firm that imprisons immigrants is Cornell Companies, and it reported a 9% increase in net revenues in the third quarter. Private prisons have been booming over the past eight years. From 2000 to 2005, the number of private prisons increased from 16% of all prisons to 23%. All of the increase in federal prisons has been in prisons owned or operated by private firms.
Immigrants are the fastest growing sector of the federal detainees and prisoners, and there’s hundreds of millions of dollars to be made by enterprising businesses and governments. The annual ICE budget for “detention and removal” is $1.2 billion. In addition, the Justice Department’s Office for the Detention Trustee has hundreds of contracts with local governments and private prison firms that provide beds for immigrants. Both ICE and OFDT have special offices that oversee the outsourcing of its immigrant prisoners. OFDT even boasts of its “enterprise” system of detention. Private prison companies aren’t worried that the Democratic Party sweep will mean that fewer immigrants are sent their way because of party promises of enacting comprehensive immigration reform. GEO Group’s chairman George Zoley on Nov. 3 assured investors: “These federal initiatives to target, detain and deport criminal aliens throughout the country will continue to drive the need for immigration detention beds over the next several years and these initiatives have been fully funded by Congress on a bipartisan basis.” Not only has the DHS crackdown on illegal immigrants have bipartisan support in Congress, it was the Democratic Congress, say private prison chiefs, that increased the 2009 budget for the crackdown. “The President only asked for a program funding of $800 million,” noted Zoley, “It was the Democratic chairman [Homeland Security subcommittee] … that added another $200 million to this program.”
In a post-election conference to report third-quarter revenue increases, CCA board chairman John Ferguson told Wall Street investors: “One budget that was put in place for the full year was immigration custom enforcement…and the funding for that is for 33,400 beds -- that's an increase from 32,000 in the prior fiscal year and also that compares to little over 31,000 detainees in .”
“Just to remind everyone,” Ferguson told investors, “detainee beds that would be sourced from us from several places that immigration custom boys need -- that's border apprehensions, people that overstay their visas, [immigrants] that are identified as criminal , and the jails and prisons [that hold immigrants] who have completed their time and will be deported.”
Photo: Private prison for immigrants in Polk County, Texas
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