About private prisons
Coastal Bend Detention Center, November 2013, an ICE prison for women

About private prisons

In a way, private prisons seem a relatively new development, but the ugly foundation of private prisons is deeply ingrained in U.S. history.

The government “detains” or imprisons or incarcerates or warehouses human beings under some “legitimate” rationale while private individuals financially benefit from the business of keeping that group of people locked up.

Sometimes the stated rationale is explicitly punitive, as in the criminal justice system, and sometimes the rationale is framed as benevolent action (rehabilitation), as in the juvenile justice system.

In the immigration context, the government has offered a mixture of these and other to justify “detention,” but right now the U.S. Department of Homeland argues that women and children need to be detained because they pose a threat to national security.

Private prison companies benefit from a quota set by the U.S. Congress that requires ICE to “detain” 34,000 per day. See, for example, this article by Nick Miroff, “Controversial quota drives immigration detention boom,” (last accessed November 14, 2014). Mr. Miroff identified his 2013 as coming from the “brightly painted Karnes County Civil Detention Center.”

For perspectives on the private business of detaining immigrants specifically:

Cuentamé, “Immigrants for Sale,” June 23, 2014

Detention Watch Network

The Business of Detention

The following links will take you to organizations working to expose and resist the private prison industry.

Grassroots Leadership


Corrections Project

You may also be interested in the following short articles:

Rina Palta, Why For-Profit Prisons House More Inmates of Color,” NPR, March 13, 2014

Andy Kroll, “This is How Private Prison Companies Make Millions Even When Crime Rates Fall,” Mother Jones, September 19, 2013, last accessed November 14, 2014

And for more in-depth analysis of the private prison industry:

Sarah Stillman, “Get Out of Jail, Inc.,” The New Yorker, June 23, 2014

The above articles and organizations represent a tiny fraction of a fraction of those that exist. Please help us add to this information!

I took this photograph in November, 2013, when I was visiting (and helping to release on bond) a young woman, 18 or 19 years old, from Guatelamala.  The Coastal Bend Detention Center in Robstown is the pits, among the worst I’ve seen.  At least as of that time, this Robstown immigration prison held only women.  In the Harlingen Immigration District, its staff and ICE blamed each other when the young woman did not show up at her master calendar and bond hearing in Port Isabel, Texas.  ICE officers told the judge that LCS was supposed to bring the busload of women; LCS staff said that ICE officers never gave them “the list” of women to transport that day.  Manuel Cantu, my dear friend who’d been visiting our client in the role of paralegal since (living in Corpus Christi, he was much closer), and my sweet husband Tom Kolker, and I were unamused, having come from Corpus Christi and Austin respectively for the hearing to which no one bothered to bring our client.  (It’s not as if we could have stopped and picked her up!!  I’d have been HAPPY to do that!)

The immigration judge appeared as a tiny person on a screen; he was televised from Harlingen (where we had stopped to file the paperwork before driving the rest of the way to the “court” where we’d expected to meet our client).  

This lack of accountability — ICE and the private contractor pointing fingers at one another – is one of the MANY problems with private prisons.  

The Coastal Bend Detention Center is run by the private prison company, LCS Corrections Services, Inc., which boasts that it “is the largest privately held private corrections company in the United States.”

I’m guessing that the “L” in “LCS Corrections Services” stands for “Louisiana,” as the corporate headquarters are in Lafayette, Louisiana…..making the full name, perhaps, “Louisiana Corrections Services Corrections Services, Inc., and reminding me of the Austin Lounge Lizards’ song, “Big Rio Grandé River.” – – Virginia Raymond

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