No Review Necessary: Stop Using Private Prisons for Immigration Detention

Jeh Johnson, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, has announced that he is setting up a committee to review whether to continue using private prisons for immigration detention. But it doesn’t take a study to figure out that the system Secretary Johnson runs is costly and causes needless human suffering. We should stop filling for-profit prison beds with asylum-seekers, children, and thousands of others who never got a fair day in court.

If Secretary Johnson wants to understand the stakes, he should ask the family of José de Jesús Deniz Sahagun, a 31-year-old man who last year committed suicide at the Eloy, Arizona, detention facility run by the private Corrections Corporation of America. After being admitted to the facility, Mr. Deniz Sahagun described a history of self-harm. But he was nevertheless put in a general population unit. It wasn’t until his paranoid thoughts and erratic behavior disturbed others that he was put on suicide watch. But the next day, a doctor ordered him removed to a lower level of supervision.

The guards carried out the doctor’s order and stepped down their observations of his cell. Within hours, Mr. Deniz Sahagun grabbed an orange sock and shoved it deep down his throat, blocking his own windpipe. While making rounds, a CCA guard noticed Mr. Deniz Sahagun lying motionless and facedown on the floor of his cell. He was still alive. As the guard and his colleagues debated whether to enter, Mr. Deniz Sahagun continued to suffocate. Eventually, paramedics entered and tried to revive him — but it was too late. He was pronounced dead in his cell.

If Immigration and Customs Enforcement had cancelled its contract with CCA in Eloy, Mr. Deniz Sahagun might still be alive. Instead, he became the fifth person to commit suicide at Eloy in a dozen years. And ICE knew long before Mr. Deniz Sahagun’s death that Eloy was inadequately equipped to prevent suicide: A 2012 inspection even found that the suicide watch room — the place where people at the most acute risk of suicide are supposed to be housed and whose chief purpose is to deny them the means to kill themselves — contained “structures or smaller objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.” Still, Eloy got a passing rating on the inspection.

And Eloy is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to ICE’s renewal of contracts with private prisons that fail to safeguard the lives of people in their custody. Across the country, 73 percent of the approximately 34,000 people held in ICE detention facilities are in the custody of private prison companies. These are the very same private prison companies that the Justice Department condemned in its August 18 memorandum and whose prisons the Justice Department’s inspector general recently found were more dangerous than federally run prisons and were failing to meet the government’s contractual standards. In one case, the company chose to operate without a full-time physician for eight months, apparently because it cost less to pay understaffing penalties than a doctor’s salary. 

There’s no question that there’s a lot of money at stake in immigration detention contracts for the private companies and their investors. For example, 28 percent of CCA’s revenue comes from ICE detention, according to the company’s first quarter 2016 investor presentation. That is more revenue than CCA receives from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, California, Texas, and the company’s home state of Tennessee combined.

But that cannot compare to the life-or-death stakes for people like Mr. Deniz Sahagun and his family. It is time to end the federal government’s relationship with these predatory companies, once and for all.

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Elisabeth Ellenbogen

Our Constitution provides for children found within our borders. We should recognize these youngsters have a Constitutional Right to live here. Our population is aging; raising and educating these young people can be an important asset to the future of our economy and balance our population.

Private prisons have never worked well except for the investors who profit from human misery!


Private prison officials, acting on behalf of the government and receiving taxpayer dollars, are also governed by the U.S. Constitution - which outlaws cruel & unusual punishment.

There are actually federal "color of law" statutes that make it a federal crime for prison officials to violate the 8th Amendment (ex: Title 18 USC 241-245 and "pattern & practice" statutes).

The U.S. Supreme Court was denied an opportunity, by Congres, years ago to rule on the constitutional boundaries of private contractors in regards to private mercenary firms operating in the Middle East.

In other words can a government official violate his oath of office (to uphold the U.S. Constitution) by simply farming it out? If so the Constitution is totally meaningless as a restraint on government action. Government officials could legally order assassinations or torture outside of constitutional boundaries.

So the DOJ, DHS or ICE can't subvert the constitutional rule of law by using private contractors either. Like former Attorney General John Ashcroft's ongoing lawsuit going after his "personal" assets, prison officials should be held "personally" liable for abusing prisoners just like Ashcroft!

Lynnette Mcdonald

My husband is in CCA in Nashville Tennessee his civil rights is being violated he shouldn't be there in the first place he's a 60-year-old man and he has been ill ever since he's been in there he got a rash all over his body his hands and knees nose and everywhere and his wrist of been smiling for no reason they do not do anything for these people they don't get them a little tablespoonful of cream to put all over his whole body He is a big man and a he's going to a hearing to see if you can get out of there he can't even eat the food I'm on this building myself I'm 70-year-old woman his wife and I have a rare disease and he doesn't need any of the food there's no nutritional value whatsoever I have to send the money out of my Social Security so you can get money on commissary to eat nothing but junk food they have no nourishment they give you nothing not even an aspirin if your headache error anything he is in dire need they took him out of the place and put to another hospital to have another doctor look at this Place is filthy it's terrible I've been there to visit him it is unbelievable how they get treated they get locked up like animals in the minimum-security that he's in they get to get out and walk around for A little bit please do something about this thank you so much Lynnette Mcdonald I'm from Texas he is in Nashville Tennessee CCA metro correction facility is a terrible place he is on a minimum security has not done anything wrong and there's other people the same way I'm just trying to let somebody know

New Mexican- get it

Trump is telling the truth, Mexico will "pay" for the wall. Here's how....
One let's remember the conservative point is a wall, right? So not important how we get there...
Now, what will happen is American will issue thousands of contracts worth billions toward wall construction. Since no white people will do this work, Mexican construction companies will issue public bonds and securities in the US to back their construction activities based on the value of their contracts.
What happens next is years of substandard construction work on a porous wall that is worth a third of what was paid by taxpayers.
An investigation will ensue but the "Mexican" construction companies will be long bankrupt and their leaders dispersed into obscurity, along with cash.
Who's left holding the empty bag? You American idiots, the people who's 401k will invest in the lost "wall construction". We border Americans will be left holding Trumps carpet bag!

Juan Rodriguez

York City Prison in York PA has been warehousing human beings whose status is in limbos, claiming it lowers taxes for the counties residents. I find it objectionable to profit from human suffering and misery! The human soul was not designed to live in a cage and it is indicative of how corrupt a society has become as it turn's a blind eye towards the sufferings of others.

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