By executive order President Trump recently directed the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to set-up an information clearing hotline to gather and compile and publish information about crimes committed by “criminal aliens.” Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office […] aims to “assist victims of crimes committed by criminal aliens,” according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“Alien” is a term used by the federal government to describe individuals who are not American citizens but who reside on U.S. soil.
There have been efforts in the courts and Congress to curtail the use of the terms “alien and “criminal alien,” but that was well before Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions came to power and started their immigration-ban round-ups.
Those in charge of operating VOICE may wish they had used a different term. The hotline has been flooded with calls prompted by twitter users to report everything from “ETs, UFOs” to “muggle-borns” (wizards and witches born to parents without magical powers) from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. As you can imagine this pranksterism leaves immigration enforcers cold: “Their [the pranksters’] actions seek to obstruct and do harm to crime victims; that’s objectively despicable regardless of one’s views on immigration policy,” an ICE official said.
According to the fact-checking and urban myth-debunking website Snopes:
The hotline’s website states that it is not intended to report crime, but rather to “ensure victims and their families have access to releasable information about a perpetrator and to offer assistance explaining the immigration removal process.” It did not elaborate on how this would help the victims of crimes.
However ICE isn’t just about hotlines and lists. The agency has contracted GEO Group to start building a detention facility in Texas for $110 million. GEO, the country’s largest for-profit prison corporation has had a long-standing private-public partnership with ICE since the 1980’s. And they have soaring expectation for profit: The 1,000-bed Facility is scheduled for completion in the fourth quarter of 2018 and is expected to generate approximately $44 million in annualized revenues and returns on investment consistent with GEO’s company-owned facilities.
ICE may not have a sense of humor but they are helping GEO Group prison corporation and their shareholders laugh all the way to the bank.
The Scott administration has been scurrying around to find a place to relocate the approximately 260 inmates currently held in Michigan at GEO Group’s for-profit private prison. In late 2016 GEO Group unexpectedly canceled its extension option on a multi-year contract to house Vermont prisoners and set a June deadline for their removal. Governor Scott didn’t pursue in-state alternatives he claims would cost more. It’s all about bottom-line GOP budgeting priorities: “The reality is it’s a lot less costly to have some out of state,” Scott said as a candidate.
Details about a new deal Governor Scott is reportedly arranging with the Pennsylvania state prison system are scant to say the least. According to Vtdigger.com, Secretary of Human Services Al Gobeille will only say that the administration is “very close” to a deal with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. An official from the PA Dept of Corrections did confirm they may soon house the Vermont prisoners but nothing is finalized. Pennsylvania Corrections regularly charges $72.00 per day cost for out-of state prisoners. That’s about $10.00 more than soon to end $61.80 per day fee GEO Group now charges to Vermont .
Whatever details eventually emerge about the Pennsylvania prison inmate housing deal, a quick look at news reports about the state system of is hardly reassuring for anyone concerned. For a period of years that state’s department of corrections has been undergoing major budget and staff cuts. The state is still suffering severe budget problems; this year, reductions under consideration in the Pennsylvania house, if enacted, would put about 1,500 state employees out of work, with prisons in line for the deepest job cuts. The administration produced an internal budget office analysis that indicated nearly 650 layoffs would occur at the Department of Corrections.
Should those new layoffs and cuts come to pass, it will be on top of existing chronic problems — including prisons operating well over capacity, with overcrowding exacerbated by previous years of budget cuts and staff reductions. To save costs two PA state prisons are slated to be closed in 2017. Officially they will be “mothballed,” dislocating and consolidating almost 2,500 inmates into other Pennsylvania prisons. The closings mean the Pennsylvania system will be operating at what is called “emergency” capacity levels. Corrections Secretary John Wetzel said, “It’s not ideal,” and by way of defending the action, he explains Pennsylvania is far from the worst state when it comes to overcrowding. There is speculation — by PA officials desperate for any revenue — that the newly “mothballed” prison facilities might be profitably put to use as suitable housing for low-risk federal immigration detainees from Trump’s aggressive immigration actions.
With the PA system under major budget stresses engagement by prison social workers, medical, or counseling staff are apt to be minimal to the extent they are provided for out-of-state prisoners. However, for families of Vermont inmate families who want to visit the travel distance may be an improvement of a kind. From Burlington to GEO’s North Lake Correction Facility is over 800 miles and to Pittsburgh, in the western corner of Pennsylvania is under 600 miles.
The snapshot of Pennsylvania’s prisons that emerges from these recent news reports is one of a system struggling under severe budget constraints and perhaps understaffed. The June deadline to move Vermont’s 260 inmates from Michigan is approaching fast: it is time for some details about what kind of “bargain” deal budget-conscious Governor Scott may think he’s arranged with Pennsylvania.
In December (after the election, of course) GEO Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections Corporation) unexpectedly opted not to renew a multi-year contract to house State of Vermont prisoners. Their North Lake Correctional Facility in Michigan was housing less than 300 Vermont inmates (the only occupants in the facility) but has a potential capacity of 1,748.
Private for-profit prison companies just got a belated Valentine’s Day love letter from new Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. The Valentine came in the form of a memo that reverses acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ directives aimed to slow and ultimately end the Bureau of Prisons’ use of privately run for-profit prisons. The Obama Justice Department had acted on data (see here and here )suggesting that private prisons are less well run than those managed by the Bureau of Prisons, and since overall prison population wasn’t growing, they were no longer be needed.
However, Attorney General Sessions shifted — well actually reversed — the policy in his memo Thursday by declaring that curtailing private prison use “impaired the Bureau’s [Bureau of Prisons’] ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” Think about what that says about the future Session envisions.
The new Attorney General may not have been the only one anticipating that Trump’s aggressive immigration sweeps will be supplying new detainees to occupy private prison beds. And since they opted out of the next one-year extension of Vermont’s contract in Dec. 2016, GEO Group will have emptied one of its facilities by June. So, maybe look for the future announcement that GEO’s North Lake will re-open to house the overflow of ICE detainees from Trump’s sweeps awaiting deportation hearings.
GEO Group is the largest (CCA is second) contract provider of detention services for ICE, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service. With recent acquisitions Geo Corrections & Detention and Geo Care will own or manage about 98,000 beds worldwide including about 7,000 community reentry beds.
And GEO’s political action committee spends lavishly on politicians. In 2016 alone they gave $300,000 to Trump’s presidential campaign and almost that much in Senate and Congressional races — overwhelmingly to Republican candidates — all that in addition to heavy lobby spending on state legislators and governors. [the following was added 2/26 : Phil Scott got his bit:a $2,000.00 donation from GEO in March 2016]. GEO Group (and earlier Wackenhut) has helped fund and is listed as a member of ALEC (the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council).
So, it’s probably no accident GEO Group knew which way the wind was going to blow regarding immigrant detention when Trump said he’d deport ‘em all. There are estimated to be up to 8 million people in the country illegally that could be considered priorities for deportation. Sessions’ memo just monetized them. And GEO stock is at an all time peak.