US News and World Report
By Alan Neuhauser
October 25, 2016
Barely two months after the Justice Department announced it would curtail its use of privatized prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is apparently negotiating to reopen two of those same facilities, including one repeatedly cited for abuses that included several questionable deaths.
ICE is seeking as many as 5,000 beds to help house the record number of people in the country illegally who are being detained and deported by the Obama administration. It's considering at least three detention centers owned and managed by private corporations, including a pair of troubled facilities in Youngstown, Ohio, and Cibola County, New Mexico, both owned by the Corrections Corporation of America and previously used exclusively by the Justice Department.
Private prisons have higher rates of safety and security incidents compared to government-run facilities, according to a Justice Department inspector general's report published in August. An investigation by The Nation also uncovered rampant substandard medical care at privatized prisons, which may have contributed to dozens of questionable deaths at 11 facilities.
In late July, in the wake of The Nation investigation and a little more than a week before the release of the inspector general's report, the Justice Department's Bureau of Prisons abruptly announced it would cancel its 10-year contract with the facility in Cibola. The Corrections Corporation of America subsequently announced it would close the prison.
The next month, the Justice Department said it would "substantially reduce" its use of private prisons overall, citing the findings of the inspector general's report.
"They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department's Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote in a memo to federal officials. "This is the first step in the process of reducing – and ultimately ending – our use of privately operated prisons."
ICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is conducting its own review of privatized prisons, the results of which are expected to be released by Nov. 30. Previous reports raising concerns about ICE detention practices, however, have had seemingly little impact on the bureau's decisions.
Although an ICE advisory committee earlier this year called for ending family detention and overhauling detention policies for families and children, for example, the agency renewed a contract with the Corrections Corporation of America for detaining families at a facility in Dilley, Texas.
"The fact that ICE is, in the midst of this review, conducting this crazy mad-dash to add private prison contracts – it sends a disturbing signal of how much they care about the results of that review," says Carl Takei, a staff attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project, who published a blog post Monday about ICE's private detention.
The private prison model, he added, perverts the penal system by turning prisoners into commodities and creating incentives to reduce security, medical care and rehabilitation services in exchange for profit.
"ICE is out of control and threatening to undo much of the good that the Justice Department did with its August announcement," Takei says.
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea, in an email statement, says the agency "can neither confirm nor discuss ongoing contract negotiations until a contract is signed between ICE and another organization.
"ICE remains committed to providing a safe and humane environment for all those in its custody," Elzea says. "ICE’s civil detention system reduces transfers, maximizes access to counsel and visitation, promotes recreation, improves conditions of confinement and ensures quality medical, mental health and dental care."
The Corrections Corporation of America did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning, but it has regularly pushed back against criticisms. Responding to the Justice Department inspector general's report this summer, spokesman Jonathan Burns said the review had "significant flaws."
"The findings simply don't match up to the numerous independent studies that show our facilities to be equal or better with regard to safety and quality, or the excellent feedback we get from our partners at all levels of government," Burns told reporters in a statement.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
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