November 16, 2018

Wyden, Merkley Press Private Prison Companies on Compliance with Federal Immigration Detention Standards

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today asked the country’s two largest private immigration detention contractors for information about their compliance with federal immigration detention standards.

The letters from Wyden, Merkley and nine other senators to contractors GEO Group and CoreCivic follows a troubling report by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers. 

The senators also wrote separately to Nakamoto Group, a private company responsible for auditing immigration detention facilities, about the company’s questionable record of reviewing conditions at those facilities.

The DHS OIG investigation into ICE’s oversight of immigration detention facilities, revealed that the private prison facilities it visited “undermine[d] the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.”   The OIG report also found that inspections conducted by Nakamoto Group are potentially misrepresenting conditions in these facilities or underreporting violations.  

“These reports and the results of the OIG investigations indicate that the perverse profit incentive at the core of the private prison business model has resulted in GEO Group and CoreCivic boosting profits by cutting costs on expenditures including food, health care, and sufficient pay and training for guards and prison staff,” the senators wrote. 

U.S. Immigration and Customers Enforcement (ICE) currently detains around 40,000 immigrants in 211 detention facilities across the United States.  GEO Group and CoreCivic together house the vast majority of immigrants held in privately-operated detention facilities—and their role continues to grow under the Trump Administration, which reversed an Obama-era policy to phase out the federal government’s reliance on private prisons.

In their letters to GEO Group and CoreCivic, the senators outlined how the companies’ aggressive lobbying efforts to promote immigration policies that boost their profits have largely paid off, noting that the Trump Administration’s immigration agenda has filled private facilities with migrant adults and children. The senators also pointed out that GEO Group has received $560 million in federal contracts in the last two fiscal years, while CoreCivic has received contracts worth $225 million to manage ICE immigration detention facilities since 2017.

“The President’s harmful and destructive immigration agenda has done immeasurable damage to immigrants, their communities, and America’s standing in the world as a safe haven for refugees and asylum seekers, but it has been lucrative for private prison corporations that operate immigration detention facilities,” the senators wrote.

In a series of questions, the senators requested information about each immigration detention facility operated by GEO Group and CoreCivic, their inspection records and results of audits, information about deficiencies cited in the reviews, as well as evidence that they have been or are being addressed.  The senators’ letter to Nakamoto Group asked several questions about the company’s compliance with its government contract and the effectiveness of its inspections.  

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, other senators signing the letters are Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

The senators requested the information be provided no later than November 30, 2018.

Text of the letter to GEO Group is here, to CoreCivic here, and to Nakamoto Group here.