by Jo Ellen Nott
In 2021, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed just how expensive the federal immigration detention system is for the American taxpayer, reporting that the year before the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had funded detention for its Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the tune of $3.14 billion—even though in many instances the need for facilities and detention space was unproven.
Private prison corporations are typically guaranteed daily minimum payments to operate a detention center, regardless of the actual headcount of detainees. In the Public Interest (ITPI), a nonprofit research and policy organization that studies public goods and services, reported that the for-profit private prison industry’s reliance on high prison populations directly benefits its bottom line. The same principle applies to ICE detention centers.
An examination of ICE detention centers in Louisiana shows waste of taxpayer money to satisfy minimum occupancy requirements per month by private prison operators. At Winn Correctional Center, the federal government paid $2.6 million per month to the private operator, LaSalle Corrections, even though it would’ve owed just $1.9 million based on the negotiated daily cost per detainee and the facility’s actual occupancy.
LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, run by the GEO Group—despite a naming similarity with another private prison firm—would’ve cost the government $961,000 per month based on actual occupancy and the cost per detainee in the contract. Except the contract also had a guaranteed minimum nearly three times higher—$2.7 million per month.
At South Louisiana ICE Processing Center in Basile, also run by the GEO Group, the guarantee was $1.9 million monthly for space that would’ve cost $809,000 based on the actual number of immigrants detained there.
Nationwide, GAO found that 28 of 40 contracts and agreements signed by ICE with private prison corporations for detention space did not have required documentation showing a need for the space, nor any outreach to local officials, nor even the basis for ICE’s decision to enter a contract at all.
Homero Lopez, an immigration attorney who is Founder and Legal Director of Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy in New Orleans, says that “[g]uaranteed minimums just demonstrate our government’s way of doing business.” As he also pointed out, the same politicians who oppose spending on social services willingly and indiscriminately waste taxpayer funds on the horrible conditions in ICE immigrant detention centers in Louisiana.
While the Biden Administration is investing in surveillance programs and other alternatives to immigrant detention, private prison operators continue to pad their bottom lines by requiring guaranteed minimum occupancy clauses in contracts with the federal government.
Additional source: The Advocate
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