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Private Prison Industry Ramped Up Campaign Contributions, Favoring Republicans

With a sitting president who has campaigned against illegal immigration and in favor of strict enforcement of immigration laws, the industry clearly wants to maintain its profit stream from facilities holding immigration detainees.

However, whether or not President Donald Trump is reelected, or his Democratic challenger Joe Biden prevails [Editor’s note: This story is being written shortly before the election], the private prison concerns will not likely be going out of business any time soon, for a reason that transcends party politics: There is insufficient space in federal prisons or immigration-holding facilities to house all detainees. There also is no support in Congress for increasing bed space.

In a little-reported development, the Department of Justice quietly transferred the last immigration detainees from its prisons in 2018.

As a result, DOJ and immigration officials were left with no other option but to use private facilities to house them. Both major companies made about $1.3 billion from contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2019 alone, representing 30 percent of their income.

Private prison companies’ stock initially rose upon President Trump’s election, but generally slumped thereafter. With the Democratic platform calling for the abolition of private prisons, and with the bipartisan interest in prison reform and reducing mass incarceration, the industry appeared to be hoping to at least maintain a status quo by favoring Trump and the GOP. 

GEO Group spokesman Pablo Paez, when questioned about the preponderance of money flowing to Republicans, said it “should not be construed as an endorsement of all policies or positions adopted by any individual candidate.” He added that, “The services we provide today are in no way different from the high quality, professional services we provided for eight years under President Obama’s administration,” when detentions and deportation initially spiked, and then tapered off. Nonetheless, GEO Group’s founder and CEO gave over $500,000 to Republicans this past year, and only $10,000 to Democrats.

CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin also denied party favoritism in its political contributions, stating that such assertions, “are misleading and portray our company in a false light.” Nonetheless, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger donated $26,300 to Republicans during this election season. People and groups linked to the company have given $228,000, mostly to the Republicans.

Regardless of the election outcome, the Department of Justice and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will still be required to honor the contracts signed by their departments, meaning that any serious reduction in private prison detentions will remain firmly in the future. 


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