Sept. 2, 2018: This story has been updated.
In the wake of increased immigrant detention, two of the nation’s largest private prison companies hope to cash in with additional federal contracts to hold detainees fighting potential deportation, according to representatives addressing shareholders during second quarter earnings calls in early August.
The two firms, Boca Raton-based GEO Group, Inc., and Nashville-based CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Florida Corporation of America, hold inmates under contract for states lacking detention space. But both companies also hold immigrant detainees for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Both firms’ history of holding immigrants stretches back 30 years and has lasted through both under Democratic and Republican administrations.
Following President Donald Trump’s victory, the value of stock in both companies recovered value that had dropped following Obama Administration moves to reduce federal use of private prisons. The Trump era also has led to new ICE contracts—even as both companies battle allegations about coercive guard practices and, separately, negligence that allegedly could have contributed to deaths, as New York-based Human Rights Watch alleged in a June report.
“We’ve seen a steady increase in our ICE populations throughout the country, and we expect this trend to continue as ICE seeks additional capacity,” said David Donahue, senior vice president of GEO corrections and detention, according to a transcript of GEO’s Aug. 2 call with investment analysts.
Damon Hininger, CoreCivic’s chief executive officer, noted on CoreCivic's Aug. 9 earnings call that his company’s fresh ICE contracts will bring profits.
“In the last 60 days,” Hininger said, “we have also been awarded two new federal contracts that are scheduled to ramp up in the second half of this year and are expected to contribute meaningfully to earnings growth to 2019.”
The state of California, Hininger added, is a major CoreCivic client. But he explained during the call that as the Golden State continues efforts to reduce prison overcrowding —and its need for out-of-state inmate placement—immigrant detainees are expected to fill many of the CoreCivic beds that the loss of California inmates will leave vacant.
Data that ICE supplied to the Center for Public Integrity confirm a significant increase in immigrant-related detention. From 2015 to 2018 the average daily number of immigrants in detention went from 28,449 to 41,836.
During their earnings calls, representatives of GEO and CoreCivic both sought to distance the companies from a controversial Trump border policy that separated children from migrant parents often seeking asylum. “To be clear, none of our facilities provide housing for children who aren't in the supervision, under the supervision of a parent,” Hininger of CoreCivic said on the call.
CoreCivic does, however, operate the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which has the capacity to hold 2,400 parents and their children. ICE and the facility are under public fire now following the death of a toddler after she was released from the facility along with her asylum-seeking Guatemalan mother.
The 1-year-old fell ill inside the facility and died after she and her mother were released. The mother has taken steps to possibly sue CoreCivic and ICE, alleging poor medical treatment while she and her daughter were in detention in Dilley.
In a response, CoreCivic public affairs director Amanda Gilchrist told the Center in an email: “First and foremost, we have deep sympathy for the family and the tragic loss of their child.”
Gilchrist also said “it’s important to note” that CoreCivic doesn’t provide medical or mental healthcare services or staffing at the Texas facility. ICE’s Health Service Corp, she said, is “solely responsible for contracting, staffing and oversight of any medical and mental health services provided” at the facility.
For its part, ICE told VICE News in an email: “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody.”
During GEO’s earnings call, company chairman and CEO George Zoley noted that GEO is under contract also to hold detained immigrant families. But he also said “our company does not manage any facility that houses unaccompanied minors nor has our company ever provided transportation or any of these services for that purpose.”
“As a three-decade long service provider to the federal government,” Zoley added, “our focus has always been and remains on providing high-quality services. And we've never advocated for or against immigration enforcement or detention policies.”
On CoreCivic’s earnings call, Hininger, in a similar vein, said “CoreCivic does not advocate for or against legislation or policies that determine the basis for or duration of an individual's detention. We do not enforce immigration laws or policies or have any say whatsoever in the individual's deportation or release.”
Yet both companies, among other activity related to politics, contributed $250,000 each to help support expenditures for Trump’s 2017 inaugural festivities.
During the 2016 election cycle, GEO Group affiliates contributed $275,000 to Rebuilding America Now, a pro-Trump super PAC, according to OpenSecrets.com, which tracks donations. GEO affiliates donated to more than 40 individual GOP congressional candidates in 2016, and at least nine Democrats. GEO also moved a leadership meeting in 2017 to Trump National Doral, a Trump golf resort near Miami.
CoreCivic contributed $35,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and $30,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to OpenSecrets.com. The company also donated to more than 40 GOP and at least seven Democratic congressional candidates.