Deadly Private Prisons Rake in Cash as Biden Defies Voters


LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 14: Razor wire is seen on the Metropolitan Detention Center prison as mass arrests by federal immigration authorities, as ordered by the Trump administration, were supposed to begin in major cities across the nation on July 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was expected to be target hundreds of Angelenos for deportation, plus family members and others they encounter and suspect of being undocumented. The city of Los Angeles declared itself a sanctuary city to reflect its policy since the 1970s of not allowing police to help immigration officials because the city wants its immigrant populations to not be afraid to cooperate with police or call in crimes and emergencies. Elected officials and activists have continued to lash out against the raids.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Voters on both sides of the aisle are no stranger to broken campaign promises. With Democratic leaders, these broken promises always feel a little more egregious. During his 2020 campaign run, President Biden pledged to end for-profit immigration detention centers. However, two years into his term, it looks like there has been little to no progress.

For-profit detention centers, explained

Much like for-profit prisons, for-profit immigration detention centers engage in shady practices. Advocacy groups and former detainees have reported horrors like sexual assault, unsanitary conditions, and deaths. People held in these centers range from those who recently crossed the border to those seeking asylum.

While people held in these facilities suffer, the companies behind them rake in millions of dollars. You might be familiar with ICE and the concept of detention centers, but you may not have heard of companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group, which own and operate most America’s prisons and detention centers. GEO Group saw its revenues increase by 40% to 1.05 billion dollars in 2022.

This money is likely not being used to better the conditions people are subject to in ICE detention centers. In 2022, two families filed a lawsuit against CoreCivic after their family members died in a Tennessee facility. The lawsuits allege that CoreCivic was “holding costs at bay by refusing to seek outside medical care for ailing inmates” and not paying attention to guards at the facility smuggling drugs.

With record numbers of deaths and sexual assaults in these facilities, Biden should be in a hurry to address concerns. However, he seems to have stepped back from his strong campaign language.

Biden’s shift in tone

A CoreCivic facility in Elizabeth, NJ is at the center of the debate on closing detention centers. The Biden administration has said that closing this facility would be “catastrophic.” The facility, which can house up to 300 people, is the last of four detention centers in the New Jersey area. The three previous centers closed in 2021, when New Jersey law AB 5207, which banned contracts, went into effect.

Advocates for keeping this particular center open say it is “critical,” as having to transport people out of New Jersey to a nearby center in Pennsylvania would be expensive. Activists onsite in New Jersey say they would like people in these detention centers to be returned to their families. Pending closure, it is likely they would just be transported to other facilities.

In a report by Reuters, three White House officials stated they “were concerned with backlash in counties that benefited economically from the detention centers.” While some of the most notorious centers have been shuttered, activists and advocacy groups say this isn’t what was promised.

People that voted for Biden know that executing on a promise and making the promise are different. It doesn’t change the feeling of betrayal for many who are working with or know people detained in these facilities.

(via Reuters, featured image: David McNew, Getty Images)

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