Sunday, October 17, 2010

"Detaining" Profits

Are private prison corporations enslaving, raping, and killing immigrant detainees while making a nice fat profit?

Seattle, WA. On August 26, 2007, a settlement agreement between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Bush Administration (Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE) was recorded in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division.

The settlement agreement was largely overlooked by mainstream media but it was both historic and highly significant. The agreement pertained to the case of In re Hutto Family Detention Centers and involved allegations of systemic and pervasive violations of civil and human rights that endangered the lives of detainees. Most of these are persons that are not being detained because they are guilty of a "crime" but due to alleged infractions against the U.S. civil code governing immigration and naturalization.

The Hutto facility had witnessed a variety of criminal incidents and patterns of exploitative treatment including the sexual abuse and rape of women and children, medical neglect, forcible separation from relatives, and other travesties too numerous to list here. None of the perpetrators were ever brought to trial for their crimes, and some of the prison guards were not even terminated. Human Rights Watch issued a report on the mistreatment and abuse of women in detention centers (March 2009) to little public outcry or media focus.

I have to wonder: Where is the moral outrage and outcry in the United States that we saw over the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq?

In another related report, released this past August, Human Rights Watch provides relevant commentary and analysis of the allegations surrounding this case:

In May 2007, when Hutto still functioned as a family detention center, a young boy was sleeping in a crib inside his mother’s cell when a guard entered and had sexual contact with her. Video surveillance captured the guard, employed by private contractor Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), crawling out of the cell in the middle of the night in an apparent failed attempt to evade security cameras. CCA fired the guard, but he never faced criminal prosecution by either state or federal authorities. According to an ICE spokesperson, the police investigation concluded that the sexual contact had been consensual. In any Bureau of Prisons facility in the US, the same incident would have constituted a crime because federal law criminalizes sexual contact between guards and those in their custody. However, at the time, that particular provision of the federal criminal code applied only to facilities under the authority of the Department of Justice. Immigration facilities had been under the authority of the DOJ until 2003, but then authority passed to the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Consequently, the statutory provision did not cover sexual misconduct in ICE facilities at the time of the incident at Hutto. Later in 2007, a legislative amendment was passed to make the provision cover all federal facilities.

In other words, a bit of bureaucratic buffoonery allowed the perpetrators at Hutto to get away with their crimes due, ultimately, to jurisdictional oversights in the original statutes regulating treatment of persons in prisons versus detention centers.

The biggest travesty of all at Hutto, like numerous other privately-run, for-profit detention centers in unmarked and secretive locations across the country, is that the system of detention itself, and its dehumanizing imprisonment of entire families awaiting deportation, subjects people to a series of violent acts that threaten the health and safety of entire families and their extended kin and communities. Some of these cases involve U.S.-born citizen children in mixed status families where one or both parents are undocumented. Other relatives may be stranded by the detention of parents and other kin; this has included abandoned toddlers and teenagers who are U.S.-born citizens.

Often overlooked in such cases is that the underlying savage treatment of detainee families is routine for a for-profit industry that is supported by Wall Street power mandarins and embraced by the neoliberal minimalist state that has politicians of all stripes, including Democratic Party leadership, privatizing everything including war and the regime of discipline and punishment that has turned our detention policy into a de facto pogrom, or purge, of the "unwanted Other."

Hence, the Obama Administration's recent glowing report and celebration of the record-breaking number of apprehensions and deportations last week. One wonders if Obama's advisers think this will miraculously get them some Tea Party votes; one suspects it won't, but it will likely lead to a loss of a good portion of the Latina/o voters who will sit out the midterm elections as a result of this type of political maneuvering that cheapens the value of a life for the sake of more favorable electoral outcomes.

I have to wonder: Where is the moral outrage in the United States that we saw over the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq? This is the same horror, sans photos or videos.

Jails 'R Us: Privatizing Detention & Demonizing Mexicans

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the leading corporate powers that dominates the private prison-detention center industrial complex, an unaccountable and secretive sector that exploits the lives and struggles of displaced persons who are criminalized for the convenience of the returns to shareholders and CEOs.

This is a well-connected corporation. CCA - which trades on the NYSE as "CXW" - is based in Nashville, TN and its connections to political elites in that state were most recently put on display when a former chief counsel was nearly appointed to a federal district judgeship, except for the organizing work of the incomparable Private Corrections Institute. The corporation seems immune to the budget cuts everyone else has been facing since the start of the Derivatives Depression in September 2008. CCA recently received an increase in the per Diem it receives from the State of Tennessee for each prisoner it "keeps" in its complexes.

Ironically, there is a surveillance tape that caught one of the rapist guards leaving the cell of the victim. He was fired but did not get prosecuted for the rape due to the previously mentioned jurisdictional buffoonery. Despite this domestic Abu Ghraib-like scandal, the company's stock seems impervious to the decline that most company stocks have faced since September 2008.

I tracked CXW stock and found that it has proven resilient: The stock was at 32.99 in July 2007 (its highest level through October 2010). It closed 2007 in the 30.00-32.00 range. In August 2008, before the onset of the credit market collapse, it was still trading fairly high at 28.42. However, by the end of October it was down nearly fifty percent to 17.05. CXW stock hit bottom in March 2009 when it closed as low as 9.82. However, since that trough, the ride has mainly been up: In late November 2009 it was trading at 25.81 and it held that range through the present: The stock closed today (October 11, 2010) at 25.83.

Why is a corporation that manages and runs private prisons and detention centers so profitable in a time of sustained recession, at least as measured by their earnings reports and stock price?

There is an old formula, readily familiar to most scholars in the social science immigration studies community. The formula was probably first applied by the pioneering Chicano researcher Ernesto Galarza who used it to illustrate his theory of "administered labor migration." The formula is simple and yet compelling: In times of economic growth and expansion, the U.S. opens the border to Mexican labor. In times of economic contraction and recession, the U.S. closes the border to Mexican labor. It is also not a coincidence that concern for immigration as a "social" problem increases whenever the economy goes into a depression or recession. This has always been the case and is not a recent phenomenon.

One can track the rise in the fortunes of CCA and correlate it precisely to the recession and subsequent heightened attacks on Mexican labor. Since apprehensions and deportations are at an all time high, it is reasonable to assume the government has to increase the number of beds for people held in detention centers. Herein lies the secret to the success enjoyed by CCA in the wake of the 2008 stock market collapse.

The for-profit prison and detention center industry relies on misery as its modus vivendi. It relies on the misery unleashed by unemployment and a climate of hatred fed by fear-mongering and immigrant-bashing; it thrives from the criminalization of labor; it makes its vampire living from the apprehension of people whose only "crime" is that they seek to escape the structural violence of hunger and malnutrition by entering the U.S. at great risk to themselves and their families to pursue undocumented labor in the U.S.

A democratic society should not allow prisons to become Arpaio gulags and warehouses of abuse and death, while rewarding it with unfathomable CEO bonuses and profits. This is necro-capitalism at its worst.

No comments: