August 18, 2016 – The announcement today by the Department of Justice that it will not renew private prison contracts due to the disproportionate abuse and danger in those facilities, brings to light and should prompt further action within the criminal justice and immigrant detention systems.
It isn’t made immediately obvious that all but one private prison contracted by the Bureau of Prisons are facilities strictly dedicated to people serving time for immigration related offenses, a charge that now makes up almost 50% of federal prosecutions.
Jacinta Gonzalez of the #Not1More campaign, which has called for an end to immigration prosecutions and all detention, states, “The same Department of Justice that is closing these prison contracts is the one putting people into them by prosecuting them for re-entry or other immigration charges.” Taking issue with the Department’s claim that it cannot predict future prison populations, she states, “The solution is not to transfer these people from one facility to another, it’s to stop prosecuting them altogether.”
Jovana Rentería of Puente Arizona adds, “The cruelty the Department of Justice is acknowledging in private prisons is not an accident. Not only are they deporting us but they are caging us, assaulting us, and seeking to dehumanize us in the process. The abuse is part of an attrition and deterrent strategy. They want people to suffer. One way is to put them in private prisons where they face the abuse the DOJ admits to, another is to put them in private detention centers like Eloy where investigations never happen.”
Citing past experience like in Jena, Louisiana where a private youth facility was closed only to be reopened as an immigration detention center, advocates demand that other agencies, especially the Department of Homeland Security which oversees immigration detention follow suit. Gonzalez continues, “Until private incarceration and detention is ended all together, these facilities will just be recycled between agencies. Private companies today will be looking for new customers and the Obama administration needs to make sure that no other government agency will be their clients.”
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The DOJ decision should prompt the Department of Homeland Security, which is currently seeking to open a new private detention center in Texas for transgender detainees to follow suit and begin the process of dismantling its own detention apparatus. Isa Noyola of the Transgender Law Center adds, “Authorities’ statement that one center will be safer than another doesn’t address that the system of detention is an act of violence on transgender people who came to this country fleeing it. DHS should stop its plan to open a new private facility in Texas and stop its practice of detaining us altogether. We do not simply want the violence committed by a corporation to be inflicted on us by the state. We want transgender and LGBTQ to be free and for the systems that criminalize and cage us to be put to an end.”
The #Not1More Campaign has called for an end to all detention, public and private, citing abuses at the Santa Ana facility and the Berks Family Detention Center where mothers are in their second week of a hunger strike as evidence that the problem with detention goes beyond the profit motive and should be ended altogether.