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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pecos Prison Town Blues: “Contract Confinement” for BOP’s Immigrant Inmates

Reserved (but empty) parking space at Reeves County
Detention Center in Pecos, Texas/Photo by Tom Barry

 (Latest in the Border Lines’ “Pecos Prison Town Blues” series of investigative articles on the Reeves County Detention Center and the business of immigrant imprisonment. For more background, see Tom Barry, “A Death in Texas,” Boston Review, November 2009.)

GEO Group, the private prison corporation that manages the nation’s largest immigrant prison in the West Texas town of Pecos, has been in the vanguard of the federal government’s privatization of immigrant incarceration.

Despite a long history of guard abuse, wrongful deaths, inmate escapes, suicides, and contract violations, GEO since the mid-1980s has counted on near-annual increases in contract beds from the federal government.

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) didn’t reevaluate its contracts, for example, with GEO and Reeves County after inmate riots two years ago over medical care abuses and the common use of solitary confinement. Instead, BOP increased the contract award and approved the GEO-directed reconstruction plan whose central feature is the prison’s new electronic surveillance system.

GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut) was the beneficiary of the second immigrant detention contract from the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in 1987. (In 1984 the newly formed and politically connected Corrections Corporation of America received the first INS contract.) 

Today, GEO Group is the second largest contractor (after CCA) for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) with seven detention centers and another one under construction – for a total of 7, 183 beds.

Ten years after the private security broke new ground in the then emerging private prison industry by investing in the business of immigrant detention, Wackenhut was contracted by BOP in 1997 to manage the agency’s first large-scale privately managed secure prison.

Never before had BOP turned over one of its prisons to a private firm. The agency began experimenting with privatization not with the general inmate population but with nonviolent immigrant inmates serving sentences for immigration violations and drug control violations.

In 1988 the BOP began its outsourcing of immigrant inmates when it signed an intergovernmental agreement with Reeves County, which in 1986 had opened the new county-owned and (at that time) county-operated Reeves County Law Enforcement Center for business.

Today, BOP continues to work closely with local governments such as Reeves County in housing immigrant inmates but it no longer institutes these arrangements through intergovernmental agreements but rather through joint contracts with local governments and private operators – like Reeves County and GEO in the case of the Pecos immigrant prison complex.

GEO Group is also a favored contractor for the immigrant prisons outsourced by the U.S. Marshals Service.

In its earnings reports GEO routinely ascribes its growth to the booming sector of immigrant imprisonment, especially the sharpening criminal alien focus through the Secure Communities Initiative and other ICE programs.  In its third quarter 2009 report, for example, GEO executives observed that “this federal initiative 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.”

The Taft Correctional Institution was the first of twelve contract facilities for “criminal aliens.” All BOP prisons for immigrants are privately managed.


Because they are run by private firms and also because they hold immigrants who are deported after serving their 1-6 year sentences, these criminal alien prisons, like the prison complex in Pecos, constitute a type of penal colony that is operated with little transparency or accountability.

All twelve of these BOP immigrant prisons operate through outsourcing contracts called Criminal Alien Requirements (CARs). Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) holds five CAR contracts, GEO has five, and Management and Training Corporation (MTC) holds two.

BOP Privately-Managed Immigrant Prisons
Facility/Manager
State
Count
ADAMS COUNTY CORR CTR (CCA)
  MS 
  2,553 
BIG SPRING CI (GEO)
  TX 
  3,472 
CIBOLA COUNTY CI (CCA)
  NM 
  1,081 
D. RAY JAMES CORR FACL (GEO)
  GA 
  2,331 
DALBY CI (MTC)
  TX 
  1,872 
EDEN CI (CCA)
  TX 
  1,548 
MCRAE CI (CCA)
  GA 
  1,711 
MOSHANNON VALLEY CI (GEO)
  PA 
  1,493 
NE OHIO CORR CTR CI (CCA)
  OH 
  1,483 
REEVES CI (GEO)
  TX 
  2,337 
REEVES DC (GEO)
  TX 
  1,348 
TAFT CI (MTC)
  CA 
  1,753 

Flexibility in Immigrant Imprisonment

Since the mid-1980s [BOP] has “contracted for bed space to confine…low security, non-U.S. citizen inmates with relatively short sentences.” BOP says that “such contracting gives the Bureau the flexibility to manage rapidly growing inmate populations and to help control overcrowding.”

BOP’s budget for contract facilities has steadily increased since the late 1990s, rising from $238 million in 1998 to $798 million in 2010.  Almost every year since 1998 the BOP budget has included special authorizations for new contract beds, virtually all of which have been for low-security “criminal aliens,” mostly immigration law violators.  

BOP’s commitment to immigrant outsourcing in immigrant-only prisons run by private operators solidified in 2004. As detailed in the 2010 prison bond offering for the reconstruction of the Reeves County Detention Complex, the bond underwriting company Carlyle Capital Markets of Dallas observed:

 “[B]y 2005 the federal budget optimistically reported, based on the anticipated growth in the federal detainee population, that ‘during 2004/2005 the number of detainees in state, local, and private prisons is expected to represent approximately 77% of the federally detained population.”
The bond offering, which aimed to persuade bond buyers of the profitability of private prisons, pointed to the pro-privatization language in the BOP’s 2005 budget:

 “The 2005 Budget places a moratorium on new prison construction while promoting more aggressive BOP contracting with State, local, and private sector providers. This approach is consistent with a [Program Assessment]  analysis  [suggesting] that BOP take greater advantage of public and private sector bed space to meet its capacity requirements.”
This privatization and outsourcing focus continued through the Bush administration and has also been the policy of the Obama administration which has repeatedly increased BOP spending for “contract confinement” of immigrants by BOP.

In President Bush’s 2009 budget request, the administration explained: “Using contract beds for the confinement of low-security inmates [immigrants in CAR facilities] provides a flexible approach to manage this population.”

BOP’s growth in contract confinement has been almost exclusively limited to low-security noncitizen inmates – thereby limiting its outsourcing to a rising but narrow component of its inmate population. An even greater source of per-diem payments from the federal government come from the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In the case of the USMS, like BOP this Justice Department agency that has custody over pre-sentenced inmates has also created a network of special immigrant prisons over the past decade. Although USMS normally transfers most inmates to the BOP after sentencing, its detention centers for immigrants commonly hold immigrant inmates who have been sentenced for short periods (mostly under a year) for illegal entry and reentry violations.  

For its part, ICE is no longer creating its own detention centers, which it euphemistically calls processing centers, but for the past decade or more has been outsourcing all of increased population to privately managed detention centers – which now account for 49% of ICE detainees.

BOP has been the central and usually the sole provider of outsourced inmates to the Reeves County Detention Center since 1988. Today, RCDC benefits from two CAR contracts – one for the RCDC I and II prisons, and another for the 2001 expansion called RCDC III.

With recent reconstruction underwritten in part (in addition to insurance payments after the 2008-2009 disturbances) by the $19.7 million bond issue in 2010 by the county, the total complex currently has a 4,000-bed capacity, up from the 3,722 capacity prior to the prison riots.

(Next: Who Really Owns the Reeves County Detention Center?)

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