Privatization of Detention Centers Puts Human Rights at Risk

Today, privatized detention facilities have an ever-increasing influence over immigration policy and control measures due to rising rates of detainees in the system.  According to the Detention Watch Network, the annual number of immigrants detained and the costs to keep them has doubled in the last five years (Detention Watch Network, 2011).  The three major competing corporations are the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the GEO Group, and the Management and Training Corporation. While public detention centers have to comply with government rules and regulations, private corporations are self-interested and profit-driven, which leads to higher rates of rights violations.  The role of detention centers is changing as private corporations advocate for stricter immigration laws.  Stricter laws, means more arrests and over-crowding in detention facilities, mistreatment of workers and detainees, as well as increasing costs to tax payers.  By looking critically at the privatization of detention centers and the problems associated with them we can advocate for change.

The public should be aware of the role of private corporations and the ways they seek to turn a profit at the sake of human detainees.  Since 9/11, the number of detainees has skyrocketed (Detention Watch Network, 2011). Private prison corporations make big profits from immigrant detention.  In 2010 the annual revenue for the CCA was $1.69 billion, and the revenue for the GEO group was $1.17 billion (Detention Watch Network). These corporations stand to benefit from cracking down on immigration control similar to corporations involved in war. Private corporations now provide 49 percent of the beds for immigrant detainees (Detention Watch Network, 2011).  The CCA and GEO Group help the government by taking over the industry because they can do the job for less.  However, in an effort to cut their costs, their facilities are understaffed and overcrowded.

Detainees experience prolonged detention, insufficient medical treatment, sexual abuse, and other human rights violations (Detention Watch Network, 2011).  Conditions for the workers aren’t much better considering they pay lower than the government, have less benefits, and therefore a high turnover rate.

Additionally, as a business, corporations are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, which protects them from acknowledging these violations (, 2006).  The Detention Watch Network states, “The private prison industry has been very explicit about its intention to influence immigration detention policy and practice in accordance with its own profit motive” (2011). Private corporations spend thousands of dollars lobbying state representatives and government entities, and were very influential in the drafting and passing of Arizona SB 1070.

It is expensive to house detainees, and how much of it is necessary?  Immigrants can be detained for months to years in inhumane conditions.  The cost for one detainee a day is $166 (Math of Immigration Detention, 2011).  Taxpayers could save more than $1.6 billion if only individuals convicted of serious crimes were detained. However, most detainees were arrested for non-violent crimes (Math of Immigration Detention, 2011).  Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is supposed to prioritize its limited detention resources to

primarily combat the most serious offenses, 65% of all immigrants who were detained and deported from 1996 to 2006 were detained after being arrested for non-violent offenses (

Detention centers are also said to be ineffective and counterproductive in deterring immigration (;  According to the ACLU and Detention Watch Network, alternative, more humane, forms of monitoring immigrants outside of detention facilities cost as little as $12 per day.  Additionally, over half of the immigrant detainees have no criminal record (  As a result, families and individuals suffer in detention centers, being held unnecessarily for prolonged periods of time while the CCA, the GEO Group, and other private corporations make huge profits and advocate for stricter immigration laws.



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Detention Watch Network. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (

“Ten Things IDC Research Found About Immigration Detention.” International

Detention Coalition. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (

2011. “The Math of Immigration Detention: Runaway Costs for Immigration

Detention Do Not Add Up to Sensible Policies.” National Immigration Forum. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (

2011. “The Money Trail.” Detention Watch Network. Retrieved May 4, 2012


2011. “Securely Insecure: The Real Costs, Consequences, and Human Face of

Immigration Detention.” ACLU Georgia Detention Watch. Retrieved May 4, 2012 (