GEO Group (GEO) and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) are driving the mass incarceration of people of color in America. These two for-profit prison companies have successfully lobbied for policies that lock black and brown bodies behind bars, with our tax dollars paying private companies to keep them there.  With the financial assistance of their major investors, CCA and GEO will continue to lobby for policies that fuel mass incarceration and the mass detention of immigrants.

Fueling the Drug War & Longer Sentences

In the 1990s, the private prison industry and its major investors successfully lobbied for policies that resulted in the mass incarceration of people of color. As participants in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), CCA and GEO (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation) advanced laws that increased the time served for drug convictions  and other non-violent crimes through: mandatory minimum sentencing[i], three-strikes laws, and truth-in-sentencing laws. These sentencing laws have been disproportionately applied to people of color. CCA, GEO, and ALEC have also promoted laws that create barriers to alternatives to prison. Today, more than 60% of the people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities. If the current trend continues, one in every three black males can expect to go to prison.[ii]

Immigration Enforcement, Criminal Prosecution & Anti-Immigrant Laws

Immigration enforcement became a centerpiece  of CCA and GEO’s  business and lobbying efforts after the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002.[i] Since 2002, CCA and GEO have together spent over $31 million on lobbying the federal government, and an additional $14 million on campaign contributions.[ii] Their investments have paid off. The U.S. now has a detention bed capacity of 34,000 beds—16,000 of which are privately operated—and a legislated mandate that those beds be filled each night.[iii] Mandatory detention, where nearly everyone suspected of an immigration offense is held in a detention center as they await deportation proceedings, in some cases for years, violates immigrants’ rights to due process and ensures that those 34,000 beds stay filled.[iv] Secure Communities, a DHS program that directs local law enforcement to collaborate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sweeps even more immigrants into detention centers and deportation proceedings.

Secure Communities was implemented by new UC President Janet Napolitano when she was DHS Secretary (2009-2013). The program’s ongoing mission is to detain and deport criminals with serious criminal convictions. However, Napolitano oversaw the deportation of around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants, 70% of whom had no criminal record or had committed minor crimes such as jaywalking.[v] Under Secure Communities, victims of domestic violence have also been put in removal proceedings after reporting abuse.[vi]

So many people are now in detention that the federal government can’t keep up: half of all detained immigrants are held in private detention centers. ICE now spends $2 billion a year detaining over 400,000 immigrants a year in more than 250 jails and detention centers.

CCA and GEO have also promoted and immensely benefited from the criminalization of immigrants. Today, half of the inmates sentenced to federal prison are Latino.[vii] Most of these Latino inmates are convicted of non-violent immigration-related crimes, such as illegal entry, a misdemeanor, and illegal re-entry, which is a felony punishable by up to ten years in federal prison.[viii] In 2011, illegal re-entry became the top criminal charge brought by federal prosecutors and accounted for a quarter of all criminal prosecutions filed.[ix] In the month of July 2013 alone, there were 7824 new immigration convictions. 94% of those convictions were for illegal entry or illegal re-entry.[x]

The gratuitous criminal prosecution of immigrants for illegal entry and illegal re-entry got its awful start and continues at a breakneck pace in courts along the U.S.-Mexico border. In December of 2005, the DHS began implementing “Operation Streamline,” a zero-tolerance border enforcement policy that funnels immigrants caught crossing the border into a “streamlined” criminal justice system, and imposes harsh prison sentences to be served in privately-run federal immigration prisons.[xi] In Tucson, court proceedings can convict and sentence up to 70 people in less than 2 hours. Defendants with legitimate claims to citizenship or asylum are overlooked in what some Arizona magistrate judges have come to call “assembly-line justice.”[xii] As a matter of course, immigrants are intimidated into pleading guilty to immigration “crimes” that 10 years ago were considered civil offenses not punishable by jail time. 99% of Operation Streamline defendants plead guilty.

The resulting increase in the number of prisoners has been a windfall for private, for-profit prison operators CCA and GEO. The Bureau of Prisons contracts with CCA and GEO to run Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) facilities, where prisoners incarcerated for immigration offenses are segregated in privately owned and operated prisons. CAR contracts are extremely lucrative for private prison companies, as they either incentivize or guarantee that the prison will be filled close to maximum capacity. These contracts are a critical driver in the dramatic increase we have seen in border enforcement.

It is no coincidence that CCA and GEO have made record profits every year since the implementation of Operation Streamline in 2005. GEO’s annual revenue has increased at an average of 18% per year and CCA’s annual revenues increased by 46% between 2005 and 2011. The federal government paid these two companies more than $1.4 billion in 2011, more than twice what they did in 2005. As a result, incarcerated immigrants brought these two private prison companies an estimated $1.3 billion in revenue per year.

These private prison companies, with the help of their powerful shareholders in the financial services sector, reinvest millions of dollars each year in lobbying efforts and campaign contributions to encourage politicians to continue to escalate the criminalization of immigrants and communities of color. Through policies like Operation Streamline, Secure Communities, SB1070 copycat laws in various states across the country, and attacks on comprehensive immigration reform, politicians are repaying their debt to their prison-funded campaign contributors.

[i] “GEO Group” & “Corrections Corp of America.” Opensecrets.org; lobbying profiles of CCA and GEO. 2012. Web. Accessed Oct. 2013.

[ii] “Private Prison companies making big bucks on locking up undocumented immigrants.” Associated Press. Aug. 2, 2012. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/private-prison-companies-making-big-bucks-locking-undocumented-immigrants-article-1.1127465?print

[iii] Selway, William & Margaret Newkirk. “Congress Mandates Jail Beds for 34,000 Immigrants as Private Prisons Profit.” Bloomberg News. Sept. 23, 2013. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-09-24/congress-fuels-private-jails-detaining-34-000-immigrants.html

[iv] “Facts about Mandatory Detention.” Detention Watch Network. Sept. 2011. Web. Accessed Oct. 2013. http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/sites/detentionwatchnetwork.org/files/MD factsheet 9-25-11-FINAL.pdf

[v] Hong, Ju. “The case against Napolitano’s nomination.” The Daily Californian.Oct. 2013. Web. Accessed Oct. 2013. http://www.dailycal.org/2013/07/16/against-the-napolitano-nomination/

[vi]Foley, Elise. “Janet Napolitano Defends Secure Communities Deportation Program.” Huffington Post. June 2011. Web. Accessed Oct. 2013.


[vii] Burke, Garance. “Latinos Form New Majority Of Those Sentenced To Federal Prison.” Huffington Post. Sept. 9, 2011. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/09/hispanic-majority-prison_n_955823.html

[viii] “Title 8, Section 1326.” TRAC Immigration. Web. June 2011. Accessed Sep. 2013. http://trac.syr.edu/laws/08/08USC01326.html

[ix] “Illegal reentry becomes top criminal charge.” TRAC Reports,  Inc. June 10, 2011. http://trac.syr.edu/immigration/reports/251/

[x] “Immigration Convictions for July 2013.” TRAC Reports, Inc. Sept. 23, 2013. http://trac.syr.edu/tracreports/bulletins/immigration/monthlyjul13/gui/

[xi]Grassroots Leadership. Operation Streamline: Costs & Consequences. Sept. 2012. http://grassrootsleadership.org/sites/default/files/uploads/GRL_Sept2012_Report-final.pdf

[xii] Lydgate, Joanna. Assembly-line justice: A review of Operation Streamline. Jan. 2010. http://www.law.berkeley.edu/files/Operation_Streamline_Policy_Brief.pdf

[ii] “Facts about Prisons and Prisoners.” The Sentencing Project. Jan.2013. Web. Accessed Sep. 2013.  http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/publications/inc_factsAboutPrisons_Jan2013.pdf

[iii] Mason, Cody. Too Good to be True: Private Prisons in America. The Sentencing Project. Jan. 2012. http://sentencingproject.org/doc/publications/inc_Too_Good_to_be_True.pdf

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