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Foster, Duckworth, Quigley and Schneider Raise Questions About For-Profit Immigrant Detention Centers

May 15, 2013
Press Release

Washington, DC—Today, Representatives Bill Foster, Tammy Duckworth, Mike Quigley and Brad Schneider submitted a letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano raising concerns over a proposal to allow a for-profit detention company to own and operate an immigration detention center in Illinois.  In the letter, the Representatives ask that Secretary Napolitano reconsider allowing a for-profit detention company to construct an immigration detention center in Illinois.

Evidence suggests that for-profit detention companies fail to create a safe working environment with adequate compensation for their employees and have adverse consequences on the safety of immigration detainees.

“Creating job opportunities is my top priority in Congress, but we need good, sustainable jobs, not unsafe, unstable, low-wage jobs that evidence suggests a for-profit detention center would bring,” said Foster.  “Our community has much more to gain from passing commonsense immigration reform that brings thousands of undocumented immigrants out of the shadows and gives them a path to becoming productive, taxpaying members of society, than from low-wage jobs at a for-profit detention center.” 

“We must fix our broken immigration system with comprehensive reforms that support long-term job creation and economic growth, rather than short term solutions that have resulted in record levels of detention, documented mistreatment of detainees, and support low-wage jobs and unsafe work environments,” said Quigley.  “Our country will be better off when we create a 21st century immigration system that brings undocumented immigrants into our tax system and grows a highly skilled U.S. workforce.”

"As Congress works to enact comprehensive immigration reform, we must focus on addressing the multifaceted challenges that we face, including securing our border and finding a way to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who live within our borders and who function in an economy that disregards their personal integrity and disadvantages American workers," Schneider said. "The answer to our broken immigration system is not a new detention center, particularly as for-profit detention centers have well-documented problems with inmate and staff safety. It is my hope that the Department of Homeland Security will listen to the concerns raised by the community and halt plans to construct a new detention center."

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

We are writing to express our concerns regarding the proposal to allow a for-profit detention company to own and operate an immigration detention center in Illinois. We are troubled by the evidence suggesting that for-profit detention companies fail to create a safe working environment with adequate compensation for their employees and have adverse consequences on the safety of immigration detainees.

While we strongly support job creation in Illinois, concerns about the use of for-profit detention companies are well documented.  There is evidence to suggest that for-profit detention companies do not pay wages that are equal to those found in publicly operated facilities. According to the 2000 Corrections Yearbook, public corrections offers made an average annual salary of $23,002 compared to $17,628 in for-profit prisons. For-profit prisons also had a 52% staff turnover rate, compared to 16% in public prisons. Moreover, several lawsuits have been filed against for-profit prisons that allege illegal working conditions for their employees. In 2009, a for-profit prison company settled a lawsuit concerning the misclassification of workers at sixty-five facilities in nineteen states in order to prevent them from receiving adequate overtime pay.[1] A subsequent lawsuit filed in 2012 alleged that a for-profit prison center in Kentucky failed to provide adequate overtime for employees and placed unlawful mandates on employees.[2]

With regard to inmate and staff safety, a 2001 George Washington University study found that for-profit prisons had 50% more inmate-on-staff assaults and 65% more inmate-on-inmate assaults than in public prisons. In addition, there have been several notable allegations of such violence and sexual assaults in for-profit immigration detention facilities. In recent years, lawsuits have been filed against for-profit detention companies in Kentucky, Idaho, and Arizona, raising serious concerns about the treatment of detainees within these detention centers.

Finally, as Congress continues to debate comprehensive immigration reform, we feel it is prudent for the Department of Homeland Security to postpone the construction of a new immigration detention facility, as the passage of comprehensive immigration reform could drastically change need to detain undocumented immigrants.

We ask that you reconsider allowing a for-profit detention company to construct an immigration detention center in Illinois. Thank you for your consideration.

           

Sincerely,

Congressman Bill Foster

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth

Congressman Mike Quigley

Congressman Brad Schneider



[1] Keith E. Barnwell Et Al. v Corrections Corporation of America. US District Court for the District of Kansas. 19 Feb. 2009. Print.

[2] Michael E. Johnson Et Al. v Corrections Corporation of America. Western District of Kentucky. 25 May 2012. Print.