Calls for “prison reform” are now coming from every political corridor. The reason is obvious: American taxpayers cannot continue to bear the exorbitant costs of the nation’s prison system. Last year CBS News reported that U.S. taxpayers are paying about $260 annually on corrections.
700% Increase in Prison Population
In 2012, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that the nation’s perpetual “war” on crime and drugs led to a 700 percent increase in the U.S. prison population between 1970 and 2009. That growth exceeded the general population growth and the actual crime rate.
This country has only 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. The U.S. Bureau Justice Statistics (BJS) has reported that nation’s prison population reached its pinnacle in 2009 with 1,615,500 prisoners, and stood at 1,574,700 as of December 31, 2013. This represented 478 prisoners per 100,000 people in this country.
Texas Leads Nation in Most Inmates
At the end of 2013, the BJS said the State of Texas by far had the most inmates with 168,240—just 47,000 shy of the entire number of prisoners in the nation’s 102 federal prisons.
That Americans have a peculiar affinity for imprisoning its citizenry is not in dispute. But since 1992, that affinity has been directed disproportionately at illegal immigrants over other groups.
Federal Convictions Doubled
According to a March 2014 report by the Pew Research Center, the number of offenders sentenced in federal court more than doubled between 1992 and 2012, rising from 36,564 cases to 75,867.
Convictions for Illegal Reentry 28X Increase
During that same period, which crossed three presidential administrations, the number of convictions for unlawful reentry increased 28-fold, rising from 690 in 1992 to 19,463 in 2012. In fact, immigration offenses represented 48 percent of the growth of federal cases resulting in a prison sentence of more than one year during that period, with the Obama administration demonstrating the greatest propensity for prosecuting these kinds of cases.
This anti-illegal immigrant attitude by the government has proven a boon for the historically corrupt and lawless “for-profit” private prison industry. Since 1999, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) has contracted with the industry for 13 for-profit prisons which, according to a 2014 ACLU report, are located in rural, isolated towns “far from the prying eyes of activists, prisoner’s families and attorneys.”
And there are more of these prisons in the works.
Texas Loves For-Profit Prisons
With a seemingly insatiable appetite for locking up people, it is inevitable that Texas officials would secure the lion’s share of these for-profit prisons. The top three private prison companies in this country—Corrections Corporation of America, The Geo Group, and Management and Training Corp.—found Texas towns among the most attractive for their profit-driven motives.
But tragically these profit motives have little regard for the humanity upon which they are built.
Criminal Alien Requirement Facilities
The big three for-profit prison companies have established five prisons in Texas: Big Spring, Post, Eden, Pecos, and Raymondville. They house roughly 14,000 illegal immigrants in what the BOP calls “criminal alien requirement” (CAR) facilities.
Given the state’s well-publicized anti-federal government feelings, one would naturally wonder why the Lone Star state would be so receptive to these kinds of “federal” prisons sitting on its sovereign soil.
The answer is actually quite simple: money and a collective social and political hostility toward illegal immigration.
So the BOP chose the five most receptive Texas communities that would have minimal concerns about what goes on behind the double rolls of razor wire, so long as the thousands of jobs created by the prisons fuel their local economies.
While these communities enjoy the economic benefits of the CAR facilities, the rest of the American taxpayers are now paying more than $1 billion annually for them, and will pay even more as more of them are built to accommodate the nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants detained annually in this country.
30,000 Illegal Immigrants in Detention
On any given day, there are 30,000 illegal immigrants detained in detention facilities, making the U.S. the largest illegal immigrant detention nation in the world.
After a five-year investigation, the ACLU issued that 2014 report concerning the five CAR facilities in Texas. The report did not paint a pretty picture of them. The first red flag is the secretive way the BOP shields them from public scrutiny. Public information requests about their policies and procedures are rejected by the BOP, claiming “trade secrets” as the basis for denial.
This official secrecy may hide but it cannot conceal the abuses and lawlessness in CAR prisons.
ACLU Reports Abuse and Mistreatment
Titled “Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison System,” the ACLU report said the Texas CAR prisons are ugly, secret bastions where non-citizen prisoners are “subjected to shocking abuse and mistreatment.”
As proof, the report chronicled overcrowded conditions, indiscriminate use of solitary confinement, and “cost-cutting measures” that have led to the death of prisoners and triggered riots among low-security inmates. For example, in late 2008 and 2009, the report said successive riots broke out at the Reeves Detention Center Complex in Pecos following the deaths of four inmates.
Citizen Inmates Need Programming
In a shocking email response to inquiries from the Texas Observer about the ACLU report, BOP spokesman Chris Burke expressed the inherent official discrimination against what the Bureau now calls “criminal aliens:”
“It is our policy to contract out bed space for non-U.S. citizen inmates in order to make space available for U.S. citizen inmates in BOP facilities so they can receive required programming.
“The majority of these inmates are sentenced criminal aliens who will be deported upon completion of their sentence. Use of private facilities for this population allows staff in BOP institutions to focus on pre-release preparation for U.S. citizens returning to their communities.”
What Burke did not say is that statistics from various sources reveal that only about 12 percent of these “criminal aliens” were convicted of violent crimes (robbery, assault, sexual assault, etc.). Approximately 43 percent of them were convicted of minor offenses like illegal reentry or traffic-related driving infractions.
80% of Deportees Not Serious Criminals
For example, a 2014 New York Times report found that just 20 percent of the non-citizens deported under the Obama administration were convicted of “serious offenses,” like drug-related crimes. The exhaustive Times analysis covered 3.2 million deportations over a 10-year period. It revealed a portrait of deportees who were not major drug dealers or violent criminals, rather simple non-U.S. citizens who committed minor offenses.
The BJS reports that 56,000 inmates were released from the federal prison system in 2012—most of whom were convicted of offenses far more serious than those committed by the overwhelmingly majority of non-U.S. citizens housed in the Texas CAR facilities.
In fact, over the last weekend in October, the BOJ released 6,000 inmates, the largest ever one time release of inmates by the Bureau—most of whom had committed crimes worse than those committed by detained non-U.S. citizens.
To make matters worse, Inmates in CAR facilities are not offered drug treatment, rehabilitation, vocational training or other programs as are inmates at typical BOP facilities. So they just wait, with nothing productive to do while that serve years in confinement.
Detention Facility and Prison Reform Needed
We feel strongly that there should be more “prison reform” discussions but they should also include real changes in how we treat confined non-U.S. citizens. A non-U.S. citizen convicted of illegal re-entry into this country should enjoy the same right to humane treatment as that enjoyed by citizen offenders in state and federal prisons.
The prison employees abusing non-U.S. citizens in the state’s five CAR prisons are Texas citizens who, we suspect, are motivated by a collective bias against “illegals.” The BOP has both a legal and moral duty to stop this abuse and mistreatment.
But it is evident from the ACLU report that the BOP does not care what happens to its “criminal aliens” because they are going to be deported anyway.
And there is certainly no political consensus in this country that non-U.S. citizens are entitled to the American constitutional guarantees against abuse and inhumane treatment as incarcerated U.S. citizens.