The Donald Trump presidency is great for business if you own a private prison.
The two largest companies in the industry enjoyed a rise of a third of their stock in the month following the election. Nearly 18 months into his presidency Trump is making companies like CoreCivic and the GEO Group smile even more as they are seeing an increase of immigrants being detained and jailed in their prisons.
In the past 15 years, although the number of immigrants being arrested has dropped, the number of immigrants being detained has nearly doubled. Most detainees and people who get seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are from Mexico, Central America, India or China. While the average stay for a detainee is two months, some have been detained for years with no access to an attorney. As one such prisoner, Sylvester Owino, wrote in an op-ed: “You aren’t even told when you’ll be released, or if you will be released. What this means is that people like me languish in this system, sometimes for months or even years. You’re essentially on your own.”
Private prisons are operating with alarmingly low overhead; to house one detainee only costs $148 per day. All of these factors together have led to a jump in revenue coming from ICE for the two largest for-profit prison companies. CoreCivic has seen a 12-point jump over the past 10 years; GEO Group has seen a 13-point jump in the same timeframe. Both companies gave a quarter of a million dollars to Trump’s campaign. They were in turn rewarded when the Department of Justice rescinded their prior stance to no longer work with for-profit prisons on immigration issues. This is in line with the statements candidate Trump made before the election, saying, “I do think we can do a lot of privatizations and private prisons, It seems to work a lot better.”
There has been a faint effort to curb the private prison industry. Both the Private Prison Information Act, introduced by Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson, and the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, introduced by Reps. Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, have looked to increase transparency in these for-profit prisons, but as of now these bills have stopped on the floor of Congress. It is hard to see anything addressing this issue getting done in this congress. Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, has two solutions, writing that “state and the federal governments ought to require outside monitors to pop-in unannounced at private prisons… also [government should] write into contracts with private prison corporations that the media ought to have more access to these taxpayer-funded facilities.”