The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced in August that it will cease its use of for-profit prison contractors for federal prisoners. The announcement sparked demands from prison-reform advocates and lawmakers to stop using private prisons to house undocumented immigrants.
Private prisons were originally used by the DHS as a way to house the rapidly growing federal prison population which grew by nearly 800 percent from 1980 until 2013. Of the nearly 400,000 immigrants detained every year, 62% of them are housed in the private prisons which have been touted as being more dangerous than those that are run by the government.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Democratic Rep. Raul M. Grijalva of Arizona jointly called on Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, to stop renewing private prison contracts and limit the scope of those contracts that can’t be eliminated. The lawmakers called the conditions in the private prisons “hellish” and said they are known for being dysfunctional and violent. A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) investigation into five private facilities reported overcrowding, insufficient medical care and isolation.
Johnson responded to the requests stating that the DHS would “review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention.” His response comes after plummeting stocks were reported for the nations’ two largest private prison groups; Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group. Combined, the two groups run more than 40 immigration detention centers which house nearly 70 percent of immigrant detainees.
While the DHS hasn’t committed to ending the housing of immigrants in private prison’s, Bob Libal, executive director of Grassroots Leadership, called Johnson’s announcement significant and stated that it could have a major impact on reducing the routine use of private prisons in the US. California recently passed a law abolishing the use of the immigration detention centers. It is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.