"Orange Is the New Black" Tackles the For-Profit Detention Center Industry: "We Should Have Known Immigration Detention Would Be the Same [as Prisons]. It’s Run by the Same F**king People.”

August 18, 2019

“Orange Is the New Black” calls the for-profit detention center industry to account in its new season ( Will Buckner )

“Orange Is the New Black” calls the for-profit detention center industry to account in its new season (Will Buckner)

By Bill Berkowitz

Carolina Paiz is a Guatemalan American, a BuzzFeed Contributor, and one of the writers and executive producers of Orange Is the New Black. A year ago, she, along with other OITNB writers, took a trip to the Adelanto Detention Center, California's largest immigration detention facility. Since the show’s seventh season would in part revolve around an ICE-run detention center, the group was on a research mission.

The final season of Orange features the callous and inhumane treatment accorded female immigrants at the hands of a fictional for-profit corporation. The facility is overcrowded, with rows of nearly touching bunk beds; medical care is practically non-existent; phone calls are expensive; detainees must pay for legal-representation, if they get any at all; prison guards are cruel; food is basically inedible; and, the women could be removed at any time. Under the Trump administration, Orange Is the New Black’s seventh and final season is more a reflection of current reality then fiction, as immigrant detention has become a booming enterprise for private prison corporations and their subcontractors. That’s the bad news. The good news is that community organizations, civil rights groups, investigative reporters, and a handful of politicians are leading a wave of resistance against private corporations benefitting from Trump’s anti-immigration policies.

According to a recent report by Axios’s Stef W. Kight and Dan Primack, “A handful of American businesses have their fingers in almost every aspect of prison life, raking in billions of dollars every year for products and services — often with little oversight.” Truthout’s Robyn Beck recently pointed out that “As of July, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had almost 53,000 people in its custody, and private prison firms are responsible for detaining more than 70 percent of them.”

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A few years back, private prison corporations were facing a gloomy future “when the Department of Justice announced that the federal government would begin slowly reducing, and ultimately eliminating, its use of private prisons,” The American Conservative’s Barbara Boland recently reported. “At the time, the DOJ said there was no evidence that these facilities saved money, and that private prisons had higher rates of health and safety concerns and prisoner mistreatment.”

However, since the advent of the Trump presidency, the Obama guidelines were rescinded “and overnight, the prices of shares of both major prison companies skyrocketed … . [and t]heir stocks remain between 20 and 25 percent higher than before Trump took office,” Boland pointed out.

Two of the larger longtime operators of private prisons companies – GEO Group and CoreCivic – “have contracts to run the lion's share of ICE's detention facilities,” NPR’s Yuki Noguchi recently reported. “But others, including Utah-based Management and Training Corp., and about a dozen other smaller firms do similar work. Those companies, in turn, subcontract with many other firms across a wide variety of industries, from food to medical services.” 

Last year, GEO Group and CoreCivic had combined revenues totaling over $4 billion, “and detention contracts made up about a quarter of that,” Noguchi reported. “According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political contributions, CoreCivic and GEO Group spent$1.6 million and $2.8 million, respectively, on political contributions and lobbying in 2018, overwhelmingly to Republican candidates.”

Some activists believe that the expansion of migrant detention in recent years has been driven by private business, not by the federal government. "The availability of private, for-profit detention has enabled the administration to dramatically increase ICE detention," David Fathi, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, told Noguchi. "And I think it's safe to say that that increase could not have been accommodated without the services ... of the private prison industry."

In addition to longtime private prison companies raking in money, companies providing the facilities with goods are also greatly benefitting. However, there has been significant pushback against companies involved with private prison companies. As Truthout’s Robyn Beck reported, “One surprising development in 2019 has been the banking industry’s withdrawal of financial support for two of the largest private prison firms, Geo Group and CoreCivic.”

Private equity investments also play a key role “in every sector of the economy including Trump’s rapidly growing detention centers for youth refugees from Central America,” Mayra Rodriguez Valladares, Forbes’ Senior Contributor reported in late July. Valladares pointed out that the “private equity firm DC Capital Partners, led by Thomas Campbell, owns an investment in military and youth detention center conglomerate, Caliburn International Corporation”:

According to a number of very detailed articles by journalist Deniz Cam, DC Capital Partners bought Comprehensive Health Services (CHS), a Caliburn subsidiary for an undisclosed sum in 2018. CHS runs Homestead, which is “the biggest shelter for unaccompanied minors in the country and also the only temporary influx center for migrant children.” Forbes estimates that DC Capital earns millions of dollars a year from government contractors it owns. “That includes CHS, which pays DC Capital an annual management fee of $1 million, based on a 2018 agreement between the two firms signed by Campbell on behalf of both entities. CHS, DC Capital and Caliburn all declined to respond to questions from Forbes.”  

On another front, northjersey.com recently reported that Yazmin Juárez, a Guatemalan woman whose toddler died after being held at an immigration detention center in Texas has filed a lawsuit against the CoreCivic Inc. the private prison company that operates the  South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley where Juárez and her daughter Mariee were held last year.

“Mariee died just months before her second birthday because CoreCivic and others charged with her well-being and medical treatment neglected to provide the most basic standard of care as her condition rapidly deteriorated, and her mother Yazmin pleaded for help,'' Juárez's lawyers from Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP law firm said in a statement. "We will do everything we can to ensure nothing like this ever happens again.”

The New York Times’ Tiffany Hau reported on July 30, that “Several financial institutions have also backed away from the private prison industry, with SunTrust, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Wells Fargo having cut ties with companies associated with immigration detention centers like the GEO Group and CoreCivic.

“Employees and executives from tech giants including Microsoft and Amazon have also protested their companies’ ties to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other entities involved in the separation of migrant children from their parents.”

Carolina Paiz recently returned to the Adelanto Detention Center. As she writes in a recent BuzzFeed article: “What we saw [a year ago] inspired an important part of our final season. But it also changed us. While we came in with wildly differing opinions on immigration, we all left stunned by what we’d witnessed, agreeing that it didn’t stand for our American values. But the truth is, what we saw in there shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Why wouldn’t America treat its immigrants like this, when it already incarcerates so many of its own citizens? For the past seven years, our writers, our cast, and our crew have been immersed in the world of prisons. Federal. State. Private. We’ve toured them. We’ve read about them. We’ve listened as former inmates shared their stories, cracking open their pain and revealing the scars an unjust justice system had inflicted upon them. We should have known immigration detention would be the same. It’s run by the same fucking people.”