Myth vs. Fact

D1A in Financial Times: More heat than light in the private prisons debate

March 6, 2020

Letter: More heat than light in the private prisons debate

Financial Times
March 4, 2020

From Alexandra Wilkes, Washington, DC, US

It is clear the role of private contractors in US corrections and immigration has become a political hot potato for some investors and politicians in recent years (“Investors pressed on private jail holdings”, FTfm, March 2), but the debate to date has generated far more heat than light.

While anger over President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, particularly the detention of unaccompanied minors crossing the border, has sparked activists’ ire, the major contractors under fire today — CoreCivic, the GEO Group and MTC — never housed these migrant children. All but one of the groups operating those government-contracted shelters for kids were non-profits, not the private sector. Today, only 8 per cent of incarcerated people are cared for in contractor-operated facilities at the state and federal levels in the US. One would be hard-pressed to know that important fact from listening to critics.

And as top US presidential contenders target contractors, their records in office tell a more complex story. For instance, while Joe Biden was vice-president, the Obama administration worked with CoreCivic and GEO to build immigration-processing facilities and address the last surge of migrants from Central America. Meanwhile, Senator Bernie Sanders has voted in favour of legislation that funded the private sector’s role in corrections. For two decades, his home state of Vermont has addressed its prison overcrowding problem by contracting with the private sector to house hundreds of inmates out-of-state.

Facts matter, particularly as they relate to questions of public policy and investing. We welcome the debate on these important issues, but it must be one based on the facts.

Alexandra Wilkes
National Spokesman,
Day 1 Alliance,
Washington, DC, US

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