Importing illegal immigrants into private Georgia prisons

Ocilla, about an hour north of here, took the private prison gamble, and now is scrambling to import enough prisoners to fill it.

Jim Galloway wrote for the AJC 11 April 2012, Importing illegal immigrants — into private Georgia prisons quoting Hannah Rappleye and Lisa Riordan Seville in The Nation 10 April 2012, How One Georgia Town Gambled Its Future on Immigration Detention,

Deportations have reached record levels under President Barack Obama, and demand for detention facilities has increased. Starting in 2002, ICE had funding for 19,444 beds per year, according to an ICE report. Today, ICE spends about $2 billion per year on almost twice the number of beds.

ICE’s reliance on facilities like the Irwin County Detention Center has put small rural towns at the center of one of today’s most contentious policy arguments—how to enforce immigration law. A yearlong investigation by The Nation shows how much politics has come to rule detention policy. Even as Georgia and Alabama passed harsh new immigration laws last year designed to keep out undocumented immigrants, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that politicians from both states were lobbying hard to bring immigrant detainees in. ICE succumbed to the pressure, sending hundreds of detainees to the financially unstable facility in Georgia that promised to detain immigrants cheaply. That promise came at the expense of the health, welfare and rights to due process of some 350 immigrants detained daily in Ocilla.

Marvelous. Pass a low to eject illegal immigrants, except it really locks up a bunch of them, but not enough to keep Ocilla’s private prison full, so import a bunch of them back in as prisoners.

Aren’t you glad we didn’t accept a private prison in Lowndes County, Georgia?

Ocilla and Irwin County didn’t just make that bad bet once, they doubled down on it:

In 2007 the county floated $55 million in lease revenue bonds—which do not require taxpayer approval—to nearly double the number of beds. Theoretically, revenue from the additional inmates, generated by daily, per-prisoner rates paid by the federal government—would bring in profit.

But the renovated detention center, which reopened in January 2009, did not make enough profit to both meet its huge biannual payments to bondholders and pay its bills. By the middle of 2009, the Irwin County Detention Center was running deep in the red.

So now they’re trying to import illegal immigrants so they can farm them out (pun intended) as farm labor.

As Hazel McCranie, president of the Ocilla-Irwin Chamber of Commerce, put it, “You’ve got to go out and get a contract with ICE. That’s your salvation.”

Trafficking in human beings. Some salvation.

Remember back in February when CCA offered 48 states to buy their prisons if they’d guarantee 90% occupancy? Well, our own Senators Isakson and Chambliss were already playing that game:

On December 9, 2010, Senator Isakson sat down with Beth Gibson, ICE’s assistant deputy director, and Gary Mead, executive director for enforcement and removal operations, along with staff from the office of Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. Senator Isakson wanted ICE to guarantee it would keep at least a hundred beds full at the Irwin County Detention Center.

Funny how neither senator mentioned their trading in human beings in their townhall in Fitzgerald last fall. That’s just up the road from Ocilla.

Meanwhile, Irwin County sued the private prison operator and won in court, but then investors got a bankruptcy ruling in another state, so the county is out of luck on collecting from the operator or selling off the prison.

Are you glad yet we didn’t go for the private prison gamble?