September 26, 2016

Wyden, Merkley Demand Answers from Dept. of Homeland Security on Use of Private Prisons

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, along with ten other senators, pressed the Obama administration Monday on the use of private prisons and contract facilities by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The letter comes amid an internal review at DHS regarding its use of private prisons, and the Senators urged DHS to ensure the review was meaningful and genuine.

In their letter to DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson, the Senators state that “we strongly oppose the use of for-profit prison companies in immigration detention” and raise alarm about the lack of transparency in detention contracts, which has too often led to poor conditions and exorbitant costs to the taxpayers.

“For far too long, the contracting process and the management of contract facilities housing immigrant detainees have been opaque.  The lack of transparency has led to a lack of accountability.  Unlike federally-run institutions, these facilities are not obligated to provide to DHS or Congress information about their cost, operational efficiency, or ability to provide adequate detention conditions.  And the results are unacceptable,” the Senators wrote.

The senators also expressed concern about the pivotal role the private prison industry has played recently in institutionalizing mass family detention and increasing detention of asylum seekers.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the letter is signed by Senators Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Al Franken, D-Minn., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

The letter comes less than a week after the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Sarah Saldaña, told the House Judiciary Committee that ICE’s prisons are “almost completely contractor run” and closing them would “turn our system upside down.”  A subcommittee of DHS’s Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) is expected to provide Secretary Johnson and Director Saldaña a report of its review by November 30, 2016, including a recommendation of whether the agency should end its use of private immigration detention.