The Senate’s immigration reform bill could provide a boon to private prison companies, the Wall Street Journal reports, increasing the federal prison population “by 14,000 inmates annually” at a cost of $1.6 billion over 10 years.
The legislation invests billions in border security technology, doubles the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents, and authorizes funds “to triple the number of prosecutions of people violating immigration laws along a portion of the U.S. border in Arizona.” “The total additional costs to detain, prosecute, and incarcerate offenders would total $3.1 billion over the 2014–2023 period,” the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Industry officials had been cautious of the legislation’s impacts on the prison business, as reform would decriminalize the estimated 11.1 million undocumented immigrants. But analysts predict that additional spending on border security would almost definitely “boost revenue at privately operated prisons” with private contractors snagging 80 percent of additional inmates.
The two biggest companies, Corrections Corp. of America and the GEO Group Inc. — who already “owe a big chunk of their recent growth to a drive by the federal government to lock up people who are in the U.S illegally” — spent millions lobbying Congress on prison issues and immigration reform. A 2012 Associated Press report found that the Federal Bureau of Prisons is paying $5.1 billion to private prison corporations for immigration detention through several years-long contracts
Yet while lawmakers embrace private prisons as a cost-cutting measure, allegations of abuse, violations, and abysmal living conditions are popping up at facilites across the U.S. In June, CCA lost four prison contracts after extensive reports of abuse, neglect, and even fraud within its operations and is facing numerous lawsuits and investigations in multiple states.
The immigration reform debate now moves to the House, where “most observers expect its legislation to focus even more than the Senate’s on clamping down on illegal immigration,” the WSJ notes.