When the Department of Justice announced on August 18 that it would stop using private prisons, it may as well have launched the memo by confetti cannon. Fanfare exploded across the internet as people celebrated the end of these dangerous, hellish and incompetently run facilities.
But as the facts fluttered to the ground, people realized the news was just a snippet of the big picture, especially when it comes to the incarcerated immigrant population.
Sorting through the implications is tricky. So here’s what you need to know, and how you can help, from signing a petition to participating in a rally on August 25.
Over the next five years, the DOJ plans to phase out its contracts with private prison companies, either by declining to renew the contracts or reducing their scope.
But that decision affects just 13 privately run federal prisons, which jail approximately 22,600 prisoners. That’s a small percentage of the more than 170,000 people incarcerated in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ 100-plus prisons. And it’s a tiny number compared to the 1.3 million people in state prisons and the 700,000 in local jails, who aren’t affected by the DOJ’s decision.
Crucially, the Department of Justice’s decision doesn’t impact immigration detention centers, which are overseen by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). So private prison companies will still control 46 immigration detention centers, which hold an average of 24,567 detainees on any given day.
In fact, immigration detention centers are the fastest-growing sector of the country’s private prison industry. As of 2015, 62 percent of ICE immigration detention beds were operated by for-profit prison corporations.
On August 22, Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona called for DHS to follow the DOJ’s lead by ending the use of for-profit immigration detention centers. ICE spends more than $2 billion a year to detain men, women and children in these notorious facilities, where they are often denied proper medical care and due process.
People in the Phoenix attended a rally on Thursday, August the 25th, to demand DHS revoke its private prison contract for the Eloy Detention Center, where immigrants have been subjected to torture, medical neglect, and overuse of solitary confinement.