Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pecos Prison Blues: Investing in Immigrant Imprisonment

Protest in front of Reeves County Courthouse/Barry Dec. 2009

(Part of a continuing Border Lines series on the Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas.)

The generally favorable prospects for the private prison industry are somewhat clouded by tight state budgets that are causing state governments to reevaluate tough sentencing laws, as well as by steadily declining crime rates.

But prison investors and the private prison firms have been able to count on the federal government to keep the business of renting out prison beds thriving. A $19.7 million bond offering last year by Carlyle Capital Markets Inc. (CCMI) of Dallas on behalf of the county-owned Reeves County Detention Center in Pecos, Texas makes this clear.

Sold to private investors, the bonds were used to reconstruct and expand the West Texas prison after immigrant inmates rioted two times more than two years ago to protest the death of a fellow inmate from mistreatment and medical abuse at this 3,700-bed prison complex operated by GEO Group, the country’s second largest prison corporation. 

By way of explaining why bond buyers shouldn’t worry about the security of their investments, the bond company lays out in great detail over 28 pages in the bond offering the corrections, contracting, and budget trends that bode extremely well for investments in private incarceration. Basically, as CCMI explains that it is all about strong “market demand” and “supply.”

The bond offering states that the statistical data about the U.S. corrections system suggests:

“[L]ong term trends related to prison inmate population growth and greater acceptance of privatization of private contractions operations favor the continuation of, if not an increase in, the outsourcing of inmate and detainee bed space by the FBOP, ICE, and the USMS….”
The cited “statistical data” included in the offering includes the following:

·      *  “Approximately one in every 100 adults in the United States is currently in prison or jail, the highest incarceration/detention rate in the world.”

·      *  “The total U.S. corrections population increased more than 123% to 7.2 million over the past two decades.”
*“ *"The anticipated future growth in prison populations is expected to exacerbate the current problem of overcrowding at both federal and state levels.”

·       * “According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as of 2007-2008, 19 states were operating at 100% or more of their institutions’ highest capacity, while facilities under the jurisdiction of FBOP alone operated at 137% of highest capacity.”

Also boding well for prison investors is the immigrant crackdown, as the bond offering enthusiastically notes, observing that immigrant prison beds have become a “significant source of demand that is expected to continue.”  The bond prospectus also points out that, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, “by 2007 immigration-related offenses had become the nation’s second most prevalent cause for arrests by federal agents.”

Immigrants have since the 1980s been the fastest growing population of federal prisons and detention centers. But until the mid-1990s this growth trend was driven primarily by the steady increase in immigrant detention by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and after 2003 by the newly created Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

However,  the hardening of federal laws regulating immigrants, both legal and illegal, during the 1990s (especially the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996) and the new initiatives such as Operation Streamline that created criminal consequences, namely prison, for immigration violations has  meant, that even when considered apart from ICE detainee populations, immigrants are also the fastest growing population of the BOP and USMS populations.

BOP’s inmate population rose from 58,000 inmates in 1989 to 140,000 in 2000. As the bond certificate observed, “Efforts to combat illegal drugs and illegal immigration contributed to significantly increased conviction rates.”

This trend has continued, especially with the widespread institution of a program of the Department of Homeland Security called the Secure Communities Initiative, which, according to the bond offering, “ aims to identify, incarcerate, and eventually deport after service of a sentence those illegal aliens who have been convicted of local, state, and federal crimes.”

Actually, Secure Communities throws a still wider net since, through a data-sharing and communications systems instituted by ICE, the initiative alerts ICE whenever anyone with an immigration violation is booked in local jails not when or if they are convicted. But Carlyle Capital Markets is right to underscore the fundamental role that this new federal immigration-enforcement initiative plays in driving up the number of immigrants that are being channeled into private prisons.

(Next: Rise of “Contract Confinement” of Immigrants by BOP)

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