The U.S. government might be gearing up to deal the private prison industry another blow.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Monday that he has called for an evaluation of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) use of private prisons to hold illegal immigrants in custody. The review will determine whether the agency should continue to contract with private prisons in the wake of the Justice Department's decision earlier this month to cut ties with the for-profit prison industry.
"On August 18, the Department of Justice announced that the Bureau of Prisons will reduce and ultimately end its use of private prisons. On Friday, I directed our Homeland Security Advisory Council, chaired by Judge William Webster, to evaluate whether the immigration detention operations conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement should move in the same direction," Johnson wrote in a statement released Monday. "Specifically, I have asked that Judge Webster establish a Subcommittee of the Council to review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated. I asked that the Subcommittee consider all factors concerning ICE’s detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations."
Johnson said he expects the advisory council's report by December.
The Justice Department announced its plan to phase out private prisons for federal inmates earlier this month after its own review found that private prisons are less effective and less safe than ones operated by the government. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates announced the decision in a memo telling prison officials to either decline to renew the contracts for private prison operators when they expire or dramatically reduce those contracts’ scope.
"They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of Inspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security," Yates wrote.
The day after the Justice Department announced its new mission, ICE signaled it had no plans to stop using private contractors. Now the agency will have to give the issue more thought.
Nearly 400,000 people are detained by DHS each year and held in custody by ICE. Critics of for-profit prisons say the corporations that run those facilities have their own interests in mind that are at odds with a more effective American immigration system. For-profit prisons have lobbied Congress extensively in the past decade to increase the minimum number of immigration detention beds guaranteed to the corporations by the government, according to an analysis by the progressive think tank American Progress.