Prison Industry Ties to Anti-Immigration Bills

September 17, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

The private detention industry stands to gain substantially from a growing immigrant detention system, so it’s no accident that a lobbying group partially funded by Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA, which operates some of the country’s largest private detention facilities, has had a hand in crafting both Arizona’s harsh SB 1070 immigration law and, now, the copycat bills springing up across the country.

Ties between Arizona lawmakers and CCA are not news, but Think Progress has a good run down of the key points: SB 1070 was drafted with help from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which helps the private sector write legislation for states. CCA, which is slated to receive $74 million for immigration detention centers in the 2010 fiscal year, helps fund the group.

CCA also has close, direct ties with Arizona lawmakers. Gov. Jan Brewer’s deputy chief of staff formerly worked as a lobbyist for CCA — his wife still works as a lobbyist there — and Brewer’s campaign chairman runs a lobbying firm that represents the prison corporation.

Similar ties can be found between CCA and lawmakers in other states who have pushed for anti-immigration laws, such as Tennessee and Colorado. (Read the full rundown for the states here.) And CCA routinely gives money to state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, that have direct connections to the detention business, as The Texas Independent reported last month.

Why is it important? Think Progress explains how anti-immigration bills could help the prison industry make a profit:

In a presentation given earlier this year, Pershing Square Capital, a hedge fund with a large financial stake in CCA, suggested that CCA’s profitability depends on increasing numbers of immigrants sent to prison. Many of the legislators helping to earn CCA more profits with radical anti-immigrant bills mirroring SB1070 have been recipients of private prison industry cash or have worked closely with the CCA-funded ALEC organization.

Some have questioned the way CCA runs detention centers, particularly after a CCA guard was charged last month with groping immigrant detainees on their way to deportation. CCA was criticized after the incident for breaking rules by allowing male detention officers to be alone with female detainees.