Crete: Lax oversight and a history of abuse lead to doubts about the Corrections Corporations of America

This article is the second in a three-part series looking at some of the different elements of the proposed Crete detention center.

The Corrections Corporation of America has earned some infamy. The private prison company operates 65 facilities in 19 states, had about 570 lawsuits filed against it between 1998 and 2008, and earns $109.1 million a year before interest and taxes.

The biggest boon for the private detention industry has been immigration detention, and with 2011 seeing a record 400,000 deportations, more and more immigrants are being funneled into private immigration prisons. In fact, nearly half of all immigration detention beds are operated by private operators like the Corrections Corporation of America, according to Detention Watch Network.

Texas, where the company has more facilities than in any other state, has seen the widest range of its actions. And it's none too happy, says Bob Libal, a senior organizer with Grassroots Leadership.

The Corrections Corporation of America "and other private prisons corporations run their facilities to make a profit,” said Libal, “and the way they do that is by … cutting corners, and that has consequences.”

But, in Illinois, the company will be starting with a blank slate. So what can we expect from the largest private prison operator in the county?

The private operator has come under fire for the sexual abuse of detained immigrants, lack of medical treatment and overly punitive condition since it first began operating in 1983.

“Things like sexual assault, incidences of violence, are not uncommon,” Libal said, adding that this is particularly worrying because detained immigrants are often in vulnerable situations and “may not have an understanding of the legal system” that allows them to report abuses.

Advocates also worry that lax oversight of private prisons will further shroud possible abuses. Currently, there is no federally mandated minimal level of oversight for facilities run by private prisons.

“I think that prisons are closed institutions in general as they are outside the public view … and most citizens have very little understanding of what goes on behind the closed doors,” Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas School of Law, told the American Independent. “But that changes dramatically when looking at private prisons.

This also removes the federal immigration agency from any liability, Libal said. “It’s another removal of control from the agency that is ultimately responsible,” he said.

Immigrants in federal detention centers are held for civil immigration violations, not for criminal charges, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has long come under fire for the detainment conditions of immigrants.

One of the most high-profile lawsuits against the Corrections Corporation of America was about prison-like conditions for minors at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. The American Civil Liberties Union, which originally took on the case, found that minors in federal immigration custody were being forced to wear prison uniforms and were confined to their cells despite having no criminal charges. The group eventually settled with the immigration agency in 2007.

The possible prison opening in Illinois would be opened under a policy aiming to create “a civil detention system, not a penal one,” according to the Statement of Objectives for the Crete detention center.

But will this help keep detained immigrants safe despite lax oversight and a history of abuse in Corrections Corporation of America facilities?

JoAnn Persch, a nun working with a group called Concerned Citizens of Crete and Neighbouring Communities against the detention center, said that regardless of the immigration agency's stated intentions, Corrections Corporation of America "is know not to provide the best of care."

"We see it as making money on the backs of the immigrant detainees," said Persch, who is against detaining immigrants with civil offenses.

© Community Renewal Society 2012

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  • Thank you for begining this series of articles. One of my recent blogs briefly touched on the subject of privatizing prisons as part of an overall focus on increasing corporation profits at the expense of human beings and society as a whole.

    The purported reason for the increase in privatization of prisons is to decrease funding coming from state and federal coffers. According to the Bureau of Justice monograph (2001) instead of the anticipated savings of 20%, the actual is more like 1%.

    I look forward to reading more of your series.

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