Lofgren, Gutiérrez, Roybal-Allard applaud recommendation to move DHS away from use of private prisons

December 19, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) and Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) today issued the following statement regarding the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Homeland Security Advisory Council's (HSAC) recent recommendation that DHS move away from the use of private prisons to detain immigrants.  HSAC acknowledged DHS's historical reliance on private prisons but concluded that the private prison model is inferior from the perspective of governance, and that a deliberate shift away from the private prison model is warranted."

"We applaud the Homeland Security Advisory Council's (HSAC) recent recommendation that DHS move away from the use of private prisons to detain immigrants.  After extensive debate and testimony, HSAC voted overwhelmingly (by a vote of 17 to 5) to end DHS's status quo reliance on private prisons. 

"While some may view the use of private prisons as a cost-cutting measure, in practice, private prisons often cost taxpayers exorbitant amounts of money while at the same time failing to provide safe, sanitary, and humane conditions. We believe that the private prison companies' for-profit model combined with insufficient accountability mechanisms has created an environment whereby private prison companies are able to abuse immigrant detainees with impunity.

"We understand that the HSAC decision, while powerful and groundbreaking, comes at the end of DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson's tenure and the process to completely dismantle the private prison detention system will take years to complete.  However, there are steps that Secretary Johnson can take immediately.  First, he can enforce termination clauses in contracts with the for-profit private prison facilities, beginning with those with the worst records of abuse and neglect.  Second, he can end family detention and expand alternatives to detention.  Third, he can ensure that any new contracts require strong transparency provisions (including robust public access) and use ICE's most recent detention standards to protect against future abuse of immigrant detainees. Lastly, he can work with the transition team to encourage the HSAC recommendations to be followed by the next Administration."

HSAC is a non-partisan expert council comprised of former high-level DHS officials, police chiefs, retired generals, business executives, law professors, national security experts, and academics.

The HSAC Dissent is as follows:

"Based on the review this subcommittee conducted, I respectfully dissent from the conclusion that reliance on private prisons should, or inevitably must, continue. I concede, as reflected in this recommendation, that overall enforcement policy, historical reliance on private prisons, and geographic concerns are presently driving reliance on private facilities. also acknowledge that any shift away from such reliance would take years, carry significant costs, and require congressional partnership. As a result, I understand the position adopted by the subcommittee, but I disagree that these obstacles require our deference to the status quo.

First, in my estimation, the review undertaken by the subcommittee points directly toward the inferiority of the private prison model from the perspective of governance and conditions. To be sure, fiscal and flexibility considerations represented countervailing factors. However, on balance, my preliminary judgment, based on the evidence we actually gathered as part of this review, is that a measured but deliberate shift away from the private prison model is warranted.

Second, as the body of this report acknowledges, the short time line and tools at our disposal necessarily limited the depth of our review. As such, I emphasize the preliminary nature of my judgment above. I believe, however, that recommendation (1) likewise should have acknowledged that process constraints rendered any firm conclusion on the appropriate mix of detention models premature.

Third, a number of key issues that went beyond the scope of this review are too consequential and too integral to allow  for a fully informed decision on federal versus private detention models. A meaningful determination on the best detention model in light of all relevant factors demands deeper investigation. Any such investigation should consider a broader set of questions regarding the most effective and humane approach to civil detention as well as whether alternatives to detention could lead to diminished reliance on physical incarceration. Absent that type of thorough review, I cannot, in good conscience, agree that status quo reliance on the continuation of the private detention model is warranted or appropriate.

Aside from this fundamental question, I strongly concur in the remainder of the subcommittee's recommendations regarding steps that should be taken immediately to improve the conditions, inspections, and oversight of extant facilities."

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