Immigration detainee releases: Highlights from the economics of detention

Reports state that the federal government spends $112.83 per day to detain an immigrant and around $2 billion was allotted in 2012, for immigrant custody costs. Recently, the ICE released several detainees because of the looming budget cuts. In the year 2005, ICE planned to spend only $504 million on detention facilities and it increased to $1.6 billion in 2008 and now it has reached $2 billion. Most of the detention facilities are owned by private companies and only 250 detention facilities are owned by the government and so most of the amount that the government spends on detention facilities goes to the private prison companies. In the year 2011, only 13 percent of the detainees were held in the detention facilities owned by the federal government and more than 84% of the detained immigrants were held in facilities owned by private companies.

Oversized credit card sitting on couch
Corrections Corporation of America, based on Texas and GEO Group, based on Florida are the top private prison companies that the ICE contracts with. Corrections Corporation of America earned more than $1.75 billion in 2012 and according to the agreement, ICE would pay a certain amount to the detention facilities regardless of occupancy. The contracts of the ICE also benefit various local jurisdictions, such as Los Angeles County that contracts its Mira Loma Detention Center to ICE and Orange County that rents bed space for the detained immigrants.

Demand for bed spaces started to increase in the 1960s when the immigration laws were changed and when the country started to deport more immigrants. Similarly, the border security was tightened in 2001 and during that time, more immigrants were placed in deportation proceedings and that fueled demand. According to the national immigration forum, the demand has multiplied and has doubled. The number of detention beds has doubled and in 2004, it was only 18,000 and now the number of detention beds is 34,000. Around 209,000 immigrants passed through ICE detention in 2001 and in 2010, more than 392,000 passed through ICE detention.

The US government revised the detention standards when overcrowding lawsuits were filed against Corrections Corporation of America and ICE and lawsuits were filed when the companies housed three detainees in two-man cells. Currently, ICE spends more than $113,000 per day to detain 1,000 immigrants. While releasing the detainees, ICE officials said that the agency may not be required to spend more if it uses some other methods of supervision instead of using detention facilities. However, ICE monitors some detainees via electronic ankle bracelet and the agency says that these security devices do not cost much.


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