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Private prison corporations angle for South Florida immigration detention center contract

Plans for a new immigration detention facility in South Florida have attracted two of the largest players in the private prison industry, both of which are partnering with different local governments to offer competing proposals.

The GEO Group is partnering with Florida City to bring a proposed immigration detention facility to Miami-Dade County. One of its primary competitors is a partnership between the Broward County town of Southwest Ranches and the private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America, which is currently the largest private immigration detention contractor in the county.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement is looking to add more capacity for detainees in South Florida. Corrections Corporation had already won approval from local governments for a proposed facility with beds for up to 1,500 detainees, but the company and the city recently sought permission to expand it to 2,200 beds, if necessary, to help meet ICE’s requirements.

The contract would be a substantial increase in the company’s existing immigration detention business. A white paper from the company states that it currently houses about 6,500 ICE detainees in the immigration facilities it operates, which it says are some of the most heavily audited in its portfolio of prisons and other detention facilities.

According to a white paper Southwest Ranches and the company filed with the Broward County government:

ICE requires approximately 1,500-2,000 new detention beds to meet local demand in the Miami metropolitan area. Ideally, this demand would be met by one 1,000-1,500 bed facility, with the capacity to expand to 2,000 beds. However, ICE will consider proposals for facilities of 750 or more detention beds.

The desired services can be provided in a dedicated multi-purpose facility or multi-facility campus with both secure (medium and maximum security cases) and non-secure residential (low and minimum security cases) beds that is designed and operated to process and house adult detainees, including the full range of criminal and non-criminal cases, in a manner consistent with ICE’s recently announced civil detention reform initiatives.

The proposed location, along U.S. Highway 27 near the edge of the Everglades would also serve as a transportation hub for ICE detainees within an eight-hour drive.

ICE’s practice of housing detainees in private facilities has come under fire from civil rights groups and immigrant advocates, but documents from the city and the company describe efforts to offer more humane conditions for detainees who pose no security threat. The documents describe “a new generation detention facility” that is “not penal in nature,” and which could expand or contract as the numbers and types of people detained by ICE shift over times. It might include courtrooms with video conferencing and other amenities for ICE staff.

Many of the detainees would require lower levels of security and “dormitory”-style detention beds, meaning they are not expected to be dangerous criminals. Corrections Corporation documents describe a “casual atmosphere” that will allow for “detainee movement” and “general relaxation.” The people detained in the facility would be able to watch television, do aerobics or play games like soccer, volleyball and dominoes (among other “enhanced indoor and outdoor recreational activities”) while they wait for their deportation proceedings to unfold.

According to the paper:

To make certain that the facility maintains a relaxed environment, staff would serve as a support system providing assistance to the detainees. Staff would be instructed to behave in a manner that promotes less formality since the facility would enact fewer rules than is typical of a correctional facility. Staff would be available to answer questions, give direction and encourage morale. Staff also would ensure that ICE rules are properly enforced.

According to documents related to GEO and Florida City’s proposal, there is a third local government, in Palm Beach County, that is competing for the new ICE facility, which may or may not have a private partner.

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