What does the future hold for the private prison industry? There is no doubt that this a pivotal moment for this critical enterprise in the nation’s policing regime. The Justice Department’s August 2016 announcement that it will reduce its reliance on private prison operators has spurred a bevy of discussions about the utility and morality of profiting off human bondage. None is more prominent than Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson’s statement that DHS has launched an internal review of its private prison operations to see whether it ought to follow the Justice Department’s lead. Make no mistake, these are long-overdue conversations.
Already there are reasons to doubt that the Obama Administration’s actions will amount to much more than politically savvy rattling. GEO Group, which trails only CCA/CoreCivic in the size of its privately detained population, announced that it continues to win contract renewals with the Bureau of Prisons.
Meanwhile, federal government business appears to be healthy for CCA/CoreCivic too. On Monday, it announced that it is now under contract to house migrants on behalf of ICE at the Cibola County Corrections Center in New Mexico—the very same facility that the Bureau of Prisons cut off in October. As one of the handful of prisons in which the BOP housed its growing population of migrants convicted of federal immigration crimes (usually entering or reentering the United States without the federal government’s permission), Cibola was long plagued by shoddy medical care that resulted, among other things, in the deaths of three imprisoned migrants. A devastating report in The Nation revealed “Prison medical staff repeatedly failed to evaluate and treat patients in accordance with policy, and for months on end the prison operated without a single medical doctor.” In explaining its decision to end its relationship with Cibola, the BOP said that it was “not in our bests interests” to continue housing people there.
According to a local news report, the BOP’s decision to end its relationship with Cibola put approximately 300 jobs at risk (another local report is available here). “It’s really devastating to the community,” CCA spokeswoman Traci Quintana said at the time. “There’s a lot of broken hearts because they don’t know what they’re going to do.” Clemente Sánchez, a Democrat who represents the area in the New Mexico State Senator, stressed the perceived economic value of private prisons to his constituents: “My first option is for it to stay private because of the revenue the prison produces for the city of Milan.”
Thanks to ICE, it seems that those worries have been put to rest.