An updated report by Detention Watch Network (DWN), in cooperation with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), has exposed the practice of “guaranteed minimum” bed quotas in detention facilities operated by or for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The term refers to the highly-criticized practice that originated by an act of Congress in 2009, requiring ICE to maintain a minimum quota of 34,000 detention facility beds at all times. [See: PLN, Jan. 2016, p.46].
The policy has been blamed for influencing ICE’s enforcement activities as well as discouraging releases of immigrant detainees in order to maintain the detention bed quota. However, the practice is not confined to ICE facilities. In their report, originally published in June 2015 and updated in June 2016, DWN and CCR revealed that the lockup quota also exists at detention facilities run by private, for-profit companies.
To compile the statistics used in the report, the organizations filed numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and examined records compiled by the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. Details regarding bed guarantees in immigrant detention contracts with private prison firms were buried in the fine print.
“Because ICE does not want to appear wasteful or inefficient with the number of beds it must pay for, these contractual provisions create an incentive to detain as many people as possible in facilities with guaranteed minimums ... this perverse incentive [acts] as a mechanism through which other entities – mostly private prison companies – influence ICE’s decisions regarding how many people are detained, where they are detained, and how long they are kept in detention,” the report concluded.
It was also clear that ICE and its contractors deliberately resisted complying with FOIA requests, delaying responses and heavily redacting the records that were grudgingly produced.
A federal lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York specifically challenges ICE’s policy of redacting information not just for valid law enforcement purposes, but essentially to defeat the concept of government transparency and accountability to taxpayers. Significantly, executives from several private prison companies, including GEO Group, provided affidavits in support of ICE’s position – presumably because they don’t want transparency or accountability, either.
On July 14, 2016, the district court, in an order granting partial summary judgment in the case, held that details of government contracts with private prison companies – specifically per-diem rates and staffing plans – are not exempt under FOIA. PLN will report that ruling in greater detail in a future issue.
Sources: “Banking on Detention: Local Lockup Quotas and Immigrant Dragnet,” DWN and CCR (June 2015, updated June 2016); www.detentionwatchnetwork.org
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