Crete: Could Illinois soon be welcoming its first privately run detention center?

Crete: Could Illinois soon be welcoming its first privately run detention center?

By YanaKunichoff | Chicago Muckrakers | February 28, 2012

This article is the first in a three-part series looking at some of the different elements of the proposed Crete detention center.

The Village of Crete, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago, may be on its way to making private-prison history as the home to the first privately run detention center in Illinois since 1990.

A law passed in 1990 bans private prisons from contracting with most detention or correctional facilities, and has kept the Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, the country’s two largest private prison operators, out of Illinois so far.

But now Corrections Corporation of America plans to be a partner in the proposed 700-bed facility expected to be opened in Crete.

Under the Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act, the management and operation of correctional facilities was declared “inherently governmental,” effectively banning private entities from fulfilling those duties in the state.

More specifically, the bill prohibits the state from contracting “with a private contractor or private vendor for the provision of services relating to the operation of a correctional facility or the incarceration of persons in the custody of the Department of Corrections or of the Department of Juvenile Justice.” An amendment signed by Gov. Pat Quinn in August 2011 expanded this to include local government and county sheriffs.

Because the detention center would be a federal facility, not a state one, it is not under the jurisdiction of state bills like the Private Correctional Facility Moratorium Act, a representative with the Illinois Department of Corrections told The Chicago Reporter.

In addition to this, the agreement to open the detention center would not be with a private company but under an intergovernmental service agreement between the immigration agency and the Village of Crete.

Marc A. Wiley Sr., a columnist for Patch in Chicago Heights, a neighboring area, said that when he contacted state and federal officials about the bill and its relation to Crete, he “was informed it was too vague concerning the federal government prison, which is controlled by” the immigration agency.

So far, the village has been the only place selected for the proposed detention center, according to Gail Montenegro, spokeswoman for the immigration agency, which began searching for a county in the Chicago area to partner with in late 2010, and though the agency “has not yet signed any agreements or committed to any long-term obligations,” Crete has been chosen as the “tentative” location.

A White Paper obtained by The Chicago Reporter shows that the Village of Crete and Corrections Corporation of America presented their plan to “partner” to “provide the requested detention and facility services” as early as November 2010.

If opened, it “would be the first private facility dedicated to immigration detention in Illinois,” said Fred Tsao, policy director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

It would also be another brick in the wall of the growing immigration detention complex. According to a PBS report, the immigration detention industry is the fastest growing system of incarceration in the United States.

Illinois already has three working detention centers–the Jefferson County Justice Center in Mount Vernon, the McHenry County Adult Correctional Facility in Woodstock and the Tri-County Detention Center in Ullin–and contracts with county jails to house immigrant detainees around the state.

The Crete facility is expected to house up to 700 detainees, making it the largest detention center in Illinois. The Tri-County Detention Center, which currently holds that distinction, houses 215 immigrants on an average day.

The immigration agency has said the new detention center would be good for detained immigrants. The agency “seeks to house detainees, whenever possible, within the geographical area of their arrest” and the opening of the facility in Chicagoland would facilitate this, Montenegro said.

This would be part of a series of reforms initiated nationally in 2009 by the immigration agency to address widespread complaints about the treatment of detainees.

But opponents of the detention center say they are highly skeptical. The immigration agency “is not committed to the well-being of immigrant communities,” said Rozalinda Borcila, an immigrant rights activist, who is part of a coalition of residents, immigrant rights activists and clergy that have been organizing against the proposed immigration detention center.

The center will “feed a new wave of anti-immigrant frenzy,” Borcila said. “Once you have more detention capacity, you have incentives to produce more immigrant ‘criminals’ to lock up.”

In part two and three of the series, the Reporter will take a closer look at the Corrections Corporation of America and whether private prisons really create the jobs that they promise to in small towns.

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