Privatized Detention

Adam_shatz_140x1401Adam Shatz in the LRB:

The centre where Bah was detained [and died] is managed by Corrections Corporation of America, a firm set up in 1983 in Nashville by a group of investors that included a former chairman of Tennessee’s Republican Party. A pioneer in running private prisons, it has also been quick to specialise in immigrant detention, the fastest growing branch of the incarceration business.

CCA describes itself as the ‘nation’s largest provider of outsourced corrections management’, with 70,000 inmates and 16,000 staff. Its website speaks proudly of ‘similarities in mission and structure’ with the US army and makes a special appeal to veterans in search of work: ‘How will you make the transition from military to civilian life? CCA features a paramilitary structure: a highly refined chain of command, and policies and procedures that dictate facility operations.’

Transparency is not one of those policies and procedures. On the contrary: according to Dow, CCA ‘has warned its shareholders of the dangers of public scrutiny’. So it’s no surprise that CCA still hasn’t explained how Bah fell, or why he was shackled and left untreated for 15 hours afterwards. US immigration officials haven’t said anything either. Indeed, ICE operates in almost perfect opacity: it’s not obliged even to keep track of deaths among detainees, much less to report them publicly. When an immigrant dies in custody, the recorded cause of death can be as vague and tautological as ‘unresponsiveness’ – something the ICE knows all about.

Britain, which holds about 2500 people in ‘immigration removal centres’, isn’t much more open.