Big news today from the Department of Justice and Bureau of Prisons: They're going to stop relying on for-profit companies to run their prisons. The announcement sent the stocks of the country's two largest prison corporations, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, crashing.
However, as Think Progress points out, "The private prison industry will still have access to its biggest cash cow: immigrants."
That means the controversial Northwest Detention Center, a roughly 1500-bed jail run by the GEO Group in Tacoma, will continue operating for the foreseeable future.
Immigrants have launched hunger strikes at the facility in recent years. Rep. Adam Smith has called the conditions inside "shocking."
CCA and GEO get about 50 percent of all their revenue from the federal government, which is why they've lobbied against drug decriminalization. But only 11 percent of their revenue comes from the Bureau of Prisons.
Think Progress talked to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson who says the agency hasn't changed its position on private prisons. Here's how heavily the agency relies on them:
Still, today's announcement could mark a turning point. It's not as if not-for-profit government-run prisons have sterling human rights records, noted Maru Mora Villalpando, an immigrant rights activist who has led protests outside the Tacoma center, in an interview today.
As of last year, 62 percent of immigration detention beds were operated by corporations. Some are housed in for-profit facilities contracted with ICE, and many more are in state and local prisons that sub-contract with prison companies.
That’s far more than the share of state and federal prisoners held in private prisons. It’s clear that the rise of privatized immigration facilities has been a huge boon to the industry:
"But it's a good step," she said. "It helps us change the narrative."