The criminalization of immigration and the privatization of the
immigration detention: implications for justice
Alissa R. Ackerman* and Rich Furman
Social Work Program, University of Washington, Tacoma, WA 98402, USA
(Received 7 May 2012; final version received 19 November 2012)
In recent decades, the criminalization of immigration and the use of private
prisons have increased in popularity. The criminalization of immigration and the
privatization of prisons work hand in hand in shaping the American criminal
justice response to immigration. Privatization creates a powerful opportunity for
the social construction of the undocumented immigrant into a powerful potential
source of revenue for for-profit corporations. Private prison corporations, such
as Corrections Corporation of American and The GEO Group, stand to profit
significantly from the private immigration detention center. Several investigative
reports have focused on how these companies stand to profit, but little attention
has been given to the psychosocial consequences that impact immigrant
detainees and their families.
Keywords: immigration; immigrant detention; privatization; private prison; US
Over the past several decades, the prison industrial complex has expanded to
include undocumented immigrants and other noncitizen residents residing within
the USA (Simon, 1998). The criminalization of immigrants has always been a significant aspect of our handling of the immigrant problem. However, the development of a complex system of criminalizing and detaining immigrants expanded
significantly after the creation of Miamis Krome Avenue Detention Center to
detain and process the Mariel refugees from Cuba in the early 1980s (Bosworth
& Kaufman, 2011). This phenomenon has accelerated significantly since 11 September 2001, as collective sentiment toward undocumented immigrants has largely
soured. Perhaps not so coincidentally, since then, Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, and its predecessor the Immigration and Naturalization Services,
have increasingly contracted with private prison corporations to detain immigrants.
Welch (2000) observes that this movement was part of a new penology in
which immigrants were identified as a dangerous and risky group. As Welch
*Corresponding author. Email: [email protected]
Contemporary Justice Review, 2013
Vol. 16, No. 2, 251263, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10282580.2013.798506
2013 Taylor & Francis
Whereas traditional penology stems from criminal law and criminality that has
emphasized punishing and correcting individual offenders, the new penology adopts
an actuarial approach in which specialists assess the risks of specific criminal subpopulations (p. 74).
This new penology corresponds with and reinforces one of the most profound
changes in the prison system, and in particular, the system of incarcerating immigrants: the privatization of prisons (Jing, 2010). As part of the global trend of neoliberal state policies designed to turn services previously handled by government
over to the market (Dominelli, 2010), the privatization of prisons has accelerated
rapidly. This new penology and privatization are congruent with and provide an
important context for new state laws that have sought to criminalize key aspects of
the lives of undocumented immigrants (Furman, Ackerman, Loya, Jones, & Negi,
2012). Various states policies, including particularly stringent laws in Arizona and
Alabama, have criminalized key aspects of the daily lives of undocumented
immigrants (Aman & Rehrig, 2011). For instance, Alabamas HB 56, the HammonBeason Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, has made it illegal for
undocumented immigrants to actually seek employment or enter into business with
the state, rendering the purchasing of electricity and seeking a driver’s license illegal
(Werner, 2011). This is notable, as being in the USA illegal is not a criminal act
(Kansas v. Martinez, 38 Kan. App. 2d 324, 2007). However, state legislators have
attempted to change the life context of undocumented immigrants in their states by
making it increasingly difficult to function, thereby stripping undocumented
immigrants of rights that they previously have held. Therefore, these two powerful
movements, the criminalization of immigration and the privatization of prisons,
work hand in hand in shaping the American criminal justice response to the powerful forces of globalization and one of its key consequences, an increase in transnational migration (Furman & Negi, 2007; Furman, Negi, & Cisneros-Howard, 2008).
While the forces of globalization lead to a natural loosening of nation state borders
and the transnational flow of labor back and force between nations, the criminalization of immigration attempts to act as a counterforce to these powerful movements,
with the aim of closing the American border to the free flow of labor (Sassen,
The criminalization of immigration
The construction of immigration as a public problem
Throughout the history of the USA, immigration has been variably problematized,
depending upon the social and economic context of the time. The problematization
of immigration has hardly been a random act by random social forces, but instead
is shaped by nativist forces and actors who construct the immigrant as the cause of
social ills within the American context (Jacobson, 2008). Understanding how public
problems are formed is essential to understanding the problematization of immigration and the immigration detention phenomenon. Gusfield (1981) presents a valuable means of understanding the various factors that influence public policy
In his seminal work on the nature of public problems, Gusfield notes several
key issues in exploring how problems are conceptualized. First, he notes that it is
essential to understand what institutions and/or organizations benefit from the
252 A.R. Ackerman and R. Furman
conceptualization. He also notes the key place of the notion of responsibility in the
definition and resolution of the problem. That is, responsibility has two meanings:
the first being who is responsible for causing the problem, the second is identifying
who is responsible for solving the problem. In the case of immigration, the way in
which each of these notions of responsibility are constructed and owned shape the
way immigration as a problem has lead to its criminalization. State policy makers
and the prison industrial complex have each become powerful forces in the shaping
of the nature of the construction of the problem and how it is resolved. Additionally, the phenomenon of privatization creates a powerful opportunity for the social
construction of the undocumented immigrant into a powerful potential source of
revenue for for-profit corporations.
State laws and the criminalization of immigration
Historically, the federal government has been viewed as responsible for the maintenance of federal borders (Nielsen, 2009). Indeed, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that immigration policy is the domain of the federal government
(Jacobson, 2008) and that policy and law related to both immigration and citizenship are its purview. According to federal law, the crossing of the US border and
entering without proper documentation is an administrative violation, in the same
category of offense, for example, as filing taxes late. As a means of decreasing
undocumented immigration, many states have been moved to wrestle immigration
policy and law away from the purview of the federal government and shift the
nature of the violation from administrative to criminal. This is accomplished not
by making the actual act of residing within a state illegal, thereby encroaching
upon federal policy, but by criminalizing essential aspects of the lives of undocumented immigrants.
While the criminalization and incarceration of immigrants is not new, it is rapidly expanding. Since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the imprisonment
of undocumented immigrants has increased; national security and undocumented
status have become increasingly linked (Mittelstadt, Speaker, Meissner, & Chisti,
2011; Sekhon, 2003; Sinnar, 2003; Tumlin, 2004). In 2005, a total of 300 immigration related bills were brought before state legislatures; by 2009, this number
increased to 1500 bills in forty-four states (Immigration Policy Center, 2011).
New state laws in Arizona and Alabama typify the nativist sentiments and
exclusionary policies which are codified within the new state laws. As stated, each
law seeks to criminalize key aspects of the actual lives of undocumented immigrants, making it increasingly hard to live within the state. For instance, Alabamas
HB56, the most stringent law passed in the USA to date, compels schools to check
the immigration status of students and report these data to the state (Jonsson, 2011).
While the data are supposed to be reported in aggregate, it appears that this has led
to a decline in attendance of not only undocumented children, but children of
undocumented parents. The law compels police to check the immigration status of
anyone whom they suspect may not be in the country legally, thereby implicating
the criminal justice system in immigration enforcement. The law also makes it a felony for undocumented persons to seek a drivers or business license (Werner,
2011); in effect insuring that undocumented laborers in rural areas will either drive
without a license or engage in a felony.
Contemporary Justice Review 253
Arizonas SB 1070, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods
Act, is considered the first of the more restrictive policies which seek to compel
law enforcement officials to ascertain immigration status. This law makes it a misdemeanor for disrupting the flow of traffic if hiring a day laborer; illegal for a day
laborer to get into a car if traffic flow is interrupted; and unlawful to transport,
move, conceal, harbor, or shield from detection any unauthorized immigrant
(Immigration Policy Center, 2011, p. 4). It also provides for the impoundment of
vehicles that transport unauthorized immigrants and notes that officers can detain a
person who cannot produce valid documents of immigration status. Additionally,
the law mandates law enforcement officers to keep individuals in custody until their
immigration status is verified and prohibits any local law that limits the investigation of federal immigration laws, for instance, community policing practice. Finally,
SB 1070 permits private citizens to sue state law enforcement if the private citizens
believe local law enforcement is failing to enforce federal immigration law.
These and other state laws have led to a social context in which immigrants are
more likely to be arrested and detained for acts that have not been traditionally
viewed as illegal. As such, undocumented immigrants are now more likely to come
into the criminal justice system and wind up in immigration detention centers,
which are proliferating to meet the increase in demand.
Privatization, profit, and immigration detention centers
The trend toward the privatization of various human services and custodial state
functions is an essential aspect of the global spread of neoliberal policies (Kaseke,
1998). These policies have been vigorously promoted by the USA through the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, two development and financial
organizations dominated by the USA (Danaher, 1994; Danaher, 2001). A natural
consequence of this strong advocacy of neoliberal policies, along with the agenda
of the political right and the response to the growing federal budget deficit, has
been for privatization to become viewed as a key means of meeting the social obligations toward providing custodial and care oriented services (Dorwart & Epstein,
1993; Furman, 2005).
Perhaps no more profound an arena for the expansion of privatization has been
the penal system. Though historically private sector involvement in corrections
dates back to the eighteenth century, it was not until the early 1980s that the USA
saw private companies contracting with state governments to operate correctional
facilities (Jing, 2010). The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) began operations in 1983 under the premise that private industry could provide cost savings to
federal, state, and local governments through publicprivate prison partnerships.
The following year, The GEO Group, the second largest private prison company,
opened its doors. Both companies claim to provide cost-effective and quality services to their clients, while saving taxpayer dollars (CCA, 2012; The Geo Group,
Many speculate that private prison corporations focus more on generating a
profit than on the safety and security of the inmates they house; those that are
employed by such companies fiercely deny this accusation. According to public
financial statements for CCA, in fiscal year 2011, the companys net worth was
approximately $1.4 billion and its net income was roughly $162 million. CCAs net
254 A.R. Ackerman and R. Furman
income has risen for the previous two fiscal years by 1 and 3% in 2009 and 2010,
respectively. CCA boasts that it is the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation.
The GEO Group was similarly profitable. In fiscal year 2011, the companys net
worth was approximately $1.2 billion with a net income of approximately $78
To date, CCA houses over 75,000 inmates in over 60 facilities. Of the facilities
operated by CCA, 44 of them are company owned. The company has entered into
contracts with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, The US Marshals Service, Immigration, Customs, and Enforcement (ICE), half of the US states and several local
municipalities (CCA, 2012). The GEO Group is similarly situated, operating facilities in several countries with an 80,000 bed capacity. The company owns and/or
manages 114 facilities with 65 correctional facilities in the USA alone. This does
not include residential treatment facilities, community-based services, or other such
The possibilities for profitability are not only found in the ownership and operation of correctional facilities. Private industries operating within federal, state, and
local facilities stand to generate substantial profit from subsidiary industries. For
example, CCA states that it specializes in the design, construction, expansion and
management of prisons, jails and detention facilities, as well as inmate transportation services (CCA, 2012). The GEO Group not only builds, designs, operates,
and finances correctional institutions, detention centers, and residential treatment
centers, but also provide services for secure inmate transport, pretrial and immigration custody services, correctional health care services and behavioral health and
residential treatment services for both adults and juveniles (The GEO Group, 2012).
However, in the last few years, states have begun to downsize their prison
populations. While the number of offenders in federal prisons continues to rise, the
number of inmates housed in state facilities has dropped for the first time since the
1970s (Justice Policy Institute, 2011; West, Sabol, & Greenman, 2010). State prison
contracts represent the number one revenue source for private prison companies.
Private industry, including private prisons companies are typically concerned with
the motive for profit above all else and, given the decline in state prison populations, CCA and The GEO Group have entered into strategies to ensure future
growth in revenue (Justice Policy Institute, 2011). First and foremost is the need for
more prisoners that will come from both federal and state jurisdictions. While states
have been decreasing prison populations, there may still be reason to move offenders from state prisons to privately run facilities. For example, the US Supreme
Court recently ordered the state of California to decrease its inmate population by
46,000 inmates (Liptak, 2011). Instead of releasing these offenders, it is possible
they may end up serving the remainder of their time in a private prison. Finally,
stricter laws, including immigration laws, are likely to increase the number of individuals housed in federal detention centers, many of which are run by CCA and
The Geo Group.
The relationship between the private prison industry and the government, at both
the state and federal level, is more complicated than simple publicprivate contracts
would suggest that government officials have been complicit in fostering the relationship between state and federal corrections and the private prison industry is an
important factor in understanding the complexities surrounding this issue. For
example, Michael Quinlan became the head of Strategic Planning for CCA in 1993,
after serving as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Since he began his
Contemporary Justice Review 255
tenure with CCA, Quinlan has served at the Chief Operating Officer and Executive
Vice President of the corporation. Today, Quinlan serves as Senior Vice President
and oversees quality assurance (CCA, 2012). While this represents only one
example of the complex relationships between the private prison industry and the
government, it is important to note that the government has remained a willing
partner in the move toward the privatization of corrections.
As Gusfield (1981) contends, to understand the creation of a public problem we
must understand who benefits, and how they assert their dominion over being
responsible for the resolution of the problem. The private prison systems rise and
response fits Gusfields model well. While private prison companies argue that they
are not in the business of lobbying for changes in criminal justice legislation
(Brancaccio, 2008), there is mounting evidence contrary to this claim.
According to a report by the Justice Policy Institute (2011), private prison companies utilize a three-pronged strategy to increase revenue and ownership as a key
means of resolving the problem. First, these companies give campaign contributions
to state and federal politicians. In fact, over the last twelve years, CCA, The GEO
Group, and Cornell Companies, which was recently bought by The GEO Group,
gave over $900,000 to federal lawmakers and more than six million dollars to state
level politicians (Center for Responsible Politics, 2011 as cited in Justice Policy
Institute, 2011). In addition, CCA and The GEO Group focus most of their contributions in California and Florida. California has the countrys largest prison population and Florida has the second along with having a mandate that several prisons
be privatized (Justice Policy Institute, 2011; West, Sabol, & Greenman, 2010;
Next, both CCA and The GEO Group actively lobby various state legislatures
and the US Congress (Justice Policy Institute, 2011). Their efforts focus specifically
on bills related to corrections and law enforcement. For example, in an interview
for a PBS documentary on private prisons, Buffy McFayden, one of Colorados
state representatives, and a staunch opponent of private prisons stated that while
one might not actually see private prison lobbyists in the room, they are very much
involved in making sure that bills related to the decrease in prison populations fail
(Brancaccio, 2008). According to the Center for Responsible Politics (2011), CCA
alone has spent almost $1 million a year, every year since 2003 on federal lobbying
efforts. In Florida, up to 30 lobbyists have been hired to lobby for contracts with
private prisons and policies that promote their use (National Institute on Money in
State Politics, 2001, as cited in Justice Policy Institute, 2011). Brown (2011)
reported that The GEO Group effectively lobbied the Florida state legislature to
vote in favor of a budget deal that would privatize all South Florida prisons. Other
such lobbying efforts continue to exist, through private prison companies maintain
that they are not in the business of influencing criminal justice legislation (Brancaccio, 2008).
The third way that private prison companies influence prison populations and
legislation is through relationships and networks with specific organizations. The
most poignant example of these relationships is with the American Legislative
Exchange Council (ALEC). According to their website, part of ALECs mission is
to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of
Americas state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government,
and general public (American Legislative Exchange Council, 2012). Through these
256 A.R. Ackerman and R. Furman
publicprivate partnerships, which bring together state legislators and lobbyists from
the private sector, ALEC is responsible for the creation of model legislation that
can be adopted by various legislative bodies. The organization boasts several task
forces related to differing areas of potential legislation, including, civil justice,
economic development, communications and technology, and health and human
services, to name a few.
Private companies, include private prison companies pay millions of dollars a
year to be members of ALEC (Sullivan, 2010b). In fact, both CCA and the GEO
Group are active members of ALEC and CCA pays additional membership fees to
sit on the Public Safety Task Force and has even co-chaired this task force (Biewen,
2002, as cited in Justice Policy Institute, 2011). As private prison companies
continue their efforts to generate revenue, the next domain to increase market shares
is immigrant detention.
Immigration policy and immigrant detention centers
In a recent NPR investigation, Sullivan (2010b) found that CCA executives
believed that immigration detention would bring an increase in revenues from ICE.
Other private prison companies have stated this as a business plan as well. ALEC,
members of state legislatures, and individuals from these private prison companies
met and drafted model legislation related to immigrant detention (Sullivan, 2010a).
Soon after the drafting of this legislation, Arizonas SB 1070 was introduced.
According to Sullivan, ALEC and CCA played a crucial role in the drafting of the
bill. Thirty-six Arizona state legislators co-sponsored the bill and of those, 30
received some form of donation or contribution from a private prison company and
24 were members of ALEC (Sullivan, 2010a). The legislation drafted at the ALEC
meeting, became SB 1070 almost verbatim.
Not only did members of the state legislature have connections to private prison
corporations, so too did Jan Brewer, Arizonas governor. It has been reported that
two of Brewers top advisers were former lobbyists for private prison companies.
Sullivan (2010b) conducted a review of the states that have adopted or are considering adopted Arizona-like immigration law. From this review, it is apparent that
many state lawmakers who have crafted immigration bills are members of ALEC,
with five legislators from these states being in the room when the original bill was
drafted. As recently as two years ago, Sullivan (2010a) reported that during a conference call to investors, when asked about immigration legislation, the CEO of
The GEO Group stated, those people coming across the border and getting
caught are going to have to be detained and that for me, at least I think, there’s
going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do. As states attempt to decrease
their prison populations, private prison companies must seek revenue elsewhere.
The CEO of the GEO Group candidly implied, immigrant detention is as good a
venture as any.
Implications of justice
Several implications for the justice system stem from the continued use of private
prison facilities and privately run immigration detention centers, specifically. Private
prison companies are tasked with safety and security while controlling costs. Often,
Contemporary Justice Review 257
cost control comes at the expense of quality. Staff in private prisons earn less than
their publicly hired counterparts and receive, on average, 58 h less training (Blakely
& Bumphus, 2004). Similarly, private detention and prison facilities are often lack
unionized corrections officers, which results in a dissimilar level of representation
in workplace decisions between private and public corrections officers. These
variables may contribute to safety issues in private prisons.
Research shows that individuals held in private prisons are subject to more violence than their publicly held peers (Blakely & Bumphus, 2004; Camp & Gaes,
2001; Lundahl, Kunz, Brownell, Harris, & Van Vleet, 2009). In addition, inmates
in private prisons may receive inadequate health care (Mason, 2012). There is evidence to support inadequate health training in various realms. Abbot (2003) details
the death of an inmate who died after a CCA official allegedly refused to fill his
prescription for a hereditary medical issue. Killian (2001) as cited in Mason (2012)
found that a facility run by the GEO Group, downgraded mental health diagnoses,
discontinued medication, failed to clean feces and blood out of cell units, and rarely
provided mental health care, even when requested (Mason, 2012, p. 11).
It is only in recent years that immigration as a problematized phenomenon has
been turned into a criminal justice issue. Given that immigrants are a particularly
vulnerable population and at risk of many psychosocial maladies, the criminalization
of their immigration status and subsequent incarceration in immigration detention
centers puts them at increased risk of numerous psychosocial risks, such as substance
abuse and mental health issues. These risks may be exacerbated by several factors.
First, the treatment of these problems demands cultural and linguistic competence
that are typically only possessed by agencies specifically desired to serve these populations. Nonculturally competent mental health professionals too frequently misdiagnose mental health concerns and provide treatments that can be culturally irrelevant
(Furman et al., 2009). For instance, the stresses and strains of working in demanding
jobs without the legal protections that citizens enjoy, thousands of miles from families, while living in dangerous and unsteady environments, and without health care,
can lead to normal, temporary anxiety reactions that can be over or under diagnosed.
Not only are professionals too often under-trained, but correctional staff in for-profit
settings receive very little training; there is little evidence that they receive sufficient
training in culturally sensitive practices. The consequence of untrained prison staff
thus lacking culturally competent communication skills can be powerful, as prison
staff may misinterpret the behaviors of detained immigrants, increasing their stress
and alienation. This lack of training can lead to poor outcomes while incarcerated
and upon release, including poor follow-up for undocumented immigrants with serious health, mental health, or substance abuse problems.
Additionally, many immigrants come from collectivist cultures in which services
must be conceptualized as part of the family system. To do so, transnationally oriented services, those which operate across nation state (country) boundaries, which
are rare in any system and do not exist within correctional facilities, are essential
for providing treatment to migrants who frequently cross borders (Furman, Negi,
Schatz, & Jones, 2008). Transnationally oriented services focus on providing connections between family members across nation state boundaries and help integrate
family members into service planning. However, such integration does not occur
within the context of immigrant detention; and as we next explore, even state
boundaries are factors that inhibit the successful community integration and the
well-being of immigrant families.
258 A.R. Ackerman and R. Furman
For example, states often contract with private prisons that are located in other
jurisdictions, sending immigrant detainees far from their support networks. A recent
CNBC documentary highlighted the story of Brenda Ambrosio, a woman from
Guatemala who came to the USA in 2001 to seek asylum from her abusive partner
(Cohn, 2011). She came to USA illegally and admits that this was wrong, but
remarried and had a child born in the USA. A minor traffic infraction ended in her
being sent to a private immigrant detention center in Arizona, 2,300 miles away
from her family. The families of immigrant detainees, like Ambrosios, may experience increased stress, isolation, and other problems due to their separations. Several
studies point to the stress associated with having an incarcerated family member
(Naser & Visher, 2006), but few discuss the added stress associated with the threat
of deportation. Negi (2008) found that undocumented Latino immigrant men were
extremely susceptible to victimization, isolation, substance abuse and post-traumatic
stress disorder. Increasing their isolation and trauma is likely to exacerbate these
and other conditions.
Further, the incarceration of undocumented adults has serious implications for
the well-being of children, many of whom are US citizens. Through criminalizing
immigration, numerous costs and burdens are placed upon states through the need
to provide care for the US citizen children of incarcerated immigrants. For instance,
these children often wind up in the child welfare system and must be placed within
foster care or other residential placements when documented family cannot be
found. Even when family members are available, they often learn to greatly distrust
child welfare personnel who have now become associated with the criminal justice
system and social control. Children who wind up in the child welfare system have
a higher incidence of involvement in the criminal justice system than the general
youth population (Barth, 1990), thereby increasing the burden on various criminal
justice systems. Paradoxically, this increased burden on the states serves to feed the
fiscal health of private companies who care of immigrants; this illustrates the powerful incentive for the system to perpetuate itself.
The psychosocial risk factors attributed to individuals incarcerated in immigration detention centers extend beyond their time spent behind bars. Many undocumented immigrants are incarcerated in immigrant detention centers after coming to
the attention of law enforcement for low level infractions. Both the undocumented
status and the offender status increase ones risk after release or deportation from a
detention center. Hickman and Suttorp (2010) found that in comparison with potentially deportable offenders who had not been deported, immigrants who had previously been deported and had criminal records were more likely to be rearrested, to
be rearrested in less time, and to have more rearrests in a one-year follow-up. This
could be because they are actually at higher risk of reoffending or are just more
likely to come to the attention of law enforcement.
Increases in the criminalization of immigration have lead to the identification
and arrest of individuals who otherwise would not have come to the attention of
law enforcement. De Facto or de jure racial profiling or the encouragement of
immigration raids on businesses in effects creates a new public problem, the undocumented immigrant as criminal. The financial costs of managing this new social
problem extend even beyond the care for dependent children and the incarceration
of undocumented immigrants. Administrative costs for courts, police, and other law
enforcement organizations for handling and processing undocumented immigrants is
Contemporary Justice Review 259
For the vast majority of these people, no other infraction has taken place. In
fact, there is considerable evidence that undocumented immigrants are actually preferred as workers than native born non-Latinos. The reasons for this are not nearly
economic (e.g. lower wages) but due to their perceived skills and work ethic
(Raffaelli, 2012). In addition, employers may enjoy a degree of control by hiring
undocumented workers, in that these individuals are less likely to contact
government agencies to report abuses or mistreatment in the work place.
In a very real sense, this new criminalization pits the needs of for-profit correctional conglomerates against the needs of the construction and agricultural industries
that rely on undocumented immigrant labor. Finally, community safety depends
upon a trusting and open relationship between policy makers and various community constituents (Tyler, 2011). As police become increasingly involved in acting as
agents of immigration enforcement, trust has eroded between then and various
Latino communities (Provine & Sanchez, 2011).
The criminalization of immigration, while not a new phenomenon, has rapidly
accelerated over the past decade. This acceleration has occurred as for-profit organizations have witnessed a decline in the state prison population, thereby threatening
their potential client base. These and other factors have led to the rise of for-profit
immigrant detention centers as a source of new detainees for for-profit prisons.
However, the private prison industry is not solely responsible for the acceleration of
for-profit prison facilities and immigrant detention centers; the US government and
several state governments are willing partners in privatizing corrections in the USA.
The social justice implications brought about by the confluence of these forces is
critical. Unfortunately, the consequences of the corrections privatization, in general,
and with the detention of immigrants, more specifically, do not end with a discussion of social justice implications. The detention of immigrants is a transnational
problem that demands policy considerations that transcend state and US policy. It is
our hope that policy analysts, criminologists, criminal justice personal and immigrant advocates continue to explore the implications of detaining a vulnerable population whose only crime is seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
In recent years, more attention has been given to both the problems associated
with immigrant detention and privatization of corrections. For example, progressive
policy centers, such as the Immigration Policy Center and the National Immigrant
Justice Center have done extensive work on providing the public with accessible
information regarding immigration policy and the human costs of immigrant detention. In addition, investigative reporting series, such as those conducted by National
Public Radio, continue to shed light on the state level laws aimed at criminalizing
ones immigration status, which directly relates to immigrant detention. Finally, several academic scholars continue to write about the criminalization of immigration
and immigrant detention. These contributions provide the impetus for public concern regarding the consequences of both the privatization of corrections and immigrant detention, as well as the criminalization of immigration. However, challenges
still exist. Primarily this is due to the political context in which immigration policy
is currently framed. This political framing pits two varying ideologies against one
another and brings about a visceral response from both. It is hoped that the ways in
260 A.R. Ackerman and R. Furman
which policy analysts, advocates, reporters, and scholars have begun making the
issue more tangible and accessible to a wider audience will bring about much
needed conversation and action that will right these current wrongs.
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