Private Immigrant Jail May Face Woes

Farmville jail protest

Farmville jail protest

By Peter Galuszka

Privatization in Virginia has been a buzzword for years among both parties. In this tax-averse state, contracting off public functions is seen as a wise and worthy approach.

But then you get debacles such as the U.S. 460 highway project. And now, you might have one brewing down in Farmville.

The small college town is in Prince Edward County, which gained international notoriety from 1959 to 1964 when it decided to shut down its entire school system rather than integrate. Many white kids ended up in all-white private schools and many African-American children were cheated out of an education entirely.

About six years ago, another creepy project started there – a private, for-profit prison designed exclusively to imprison undocumented aliens. It’s a cozy little deal, as I outline in a piece in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Farmville gets a $1 per head, per day (sounds like slavery) from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Immigration Centers of America, the private firm run by Richmond executives Ken Newsome and Russell Harper, gets profits. Then, in turn, also pay taxes to Farmville and the county.

The ICA facility, whose logo includes an American flag, pays taxes as well and provides about 250 jobs locally. The project even got a $400,000 grant from the scandal-ridden Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission for water and sewer works.

What might sound like a no-lose operation, except for the mostly Hispanic inmates who might have entered the country illegally, overstayed their visas, or had other bureaucratic problems, may face problems.

The census now at the jail is about 75 percent of what it could be. President Obama has issued an executive order that could free some five million undocumented aliens. It is being challenged by 26 states but Virginia Atty. Gen Mark Herring has filed an amicus brief in favor of Obama.

So what happens to Farmville if Obama wins? It could affect 96,000 aliens in Virginia. Could there someday be no prisoners? Wouldn’t that be too bad for Farmville?

Recent history is instructive. Back in the 1990s, Gov. George Allen, a conservative darling, was pushing private prisons in Virginia as he successfully got rid of parole in part of his crime crackdown. Slave labor was part of the deal.

Executive Intelligence Weekly wrote in 1994:

“Slave labor in American prisons is increasingly being carried out in what are called “private prisons.” In his campaign to “reform” Virginia’s penal laws, Gov. George Allen pointed to prison privatization as the wave of the future, a moneymaking enterprise for the investor, and a source of good, cheap labor for Virginia’s municipalities. Indeed, after taxes, pay-back to the prison, and victim restitution are removed, the inmate earns an average of $1 per hour in these facilities.”

Well guess what happened. Allen pushed for more public and private prisons. They were overbuilt. Demographics changed. Crime rates dropped. Prisons had to be shut down.

So, if immigration reform ever comes about what happens in Farmville? Don’t forget, the private jail came at a time when a construction boom, especially in Northern Virginia had drawn in many immigrants especially from Latin America. Their papers may not have been in order.

Neo-racists like Corey Stewart, chairman of the board of supervisors of Prince William County, ordered a crackdown on brown-skinned people who spoke Spanish. But when the real estate market crashed, fewer Latinos arrived. And, if they did, they avoided Stewart’s home county.

Wither Farmville?

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13 responses to “Private Immigrant Jail May Face Woes

  1. good article! looks like it costs about $24 million a year to operate it and average salary – 48K.

    important to note – that “privatization”does not mean “free”or no tax dollars used.

    is this a prison only for folks in Va ? what are the Feds paying a dollar a day per prisoner when the cost per prisoner per day is likely on the order of
    $50+? Is Virginia picking up the rest of the costs – and basically saving money on employee pensions and health care?

    don’t say the govt doesn’t create jobs!

  2. Virginia’s public prisons have at times held prisoners from other states or from DC. Local jails can hold prisoners waiting to transfer to state institutions, etc. Most of those arrangements work on daily fee per capita basis. How exactly is that slavery, unless these prisoners are being required to work and the prison operator is profiting from that labor?

    If indeed the courts side with Obama and the federal practice changes and suddenly these individuals are not incarcerated, or are incarcerated for much shorter periods, I’m glad the risk of empty beds is faced by private investors. Other than pointing out that some people are making a buck off of the mess we’ve created in our immigration system, and may lose out if things change, I don’t get your point, Peter.

  3. Some people don’t have a problem with making a profit from human incarceration, especially if they are harmless people who are among 10 million or so who are aliens and here illegally. If you have ever dealt with immigration issues as I have you realize just what a mess the system is.

    I do have a problem with it, Steve, and that is my point.

    • If you don’t think those people should be incarcerated, I get that. I’m no expert but I won’t defend the immigration system. That’s a separate issue.

      But if a private investor can run the prison and follow the rules, and can do at less cost that the government could even if there is a profit margin included, than I do not have a problem with that.

  4. who is paying the 24+ million?

    why is Va paying it?

    what’s the point so they won’t get entitlements?

    😉

    or so they won’t pay taxes on income they earn doing jobs that no-one else wants to do?

    anyone who considers themselves as a fiscal conservative – needs to ask what the ROI is… what’s the gain for Virginia?

  5. Larry,

    ICE pays it. not Virginia.

  6. “Then you get debacles such as the U.S. 460 highway project.”

    U.S. 460 was indeed a debacle but not because the project had been “privatized.” The original concept was a public-private partnership in which a private-sector concessionaire would build and lease the proposed highway. That didn’t work. The private-sector people were the ones who said the numbers didn’t add up. So the McDonnell administration shifted to a design-build deal, contracting out the design and construction to U.S. 460 Mobility Partners. But U.S. 460 Mobility Partners had nothing to do with what went wrong. The McDonnell administration started paying U.S. 460 Mobility before obtaining the needed wetlands permits — that was the McDonnell administration’s doing, not U.S. 460 Mobility Partner’s.

  7. … Not that I’m a defender of private prisons as they are currently run. The WSJ ran an op-ed today arguing that private prisons under-invest in programs to reduce recidivism. They’re perfectly happy to see large numbers of people recycle through the system. But the problem isn’t the fact that the prisons are private so much as the fact that states, who are paying the bills, failed to write recidivism programs into the contracts in such a way as to incentivize better outcomes.

  8. Jim,
    I saw the same article but decided not to include it because immigrants are an entirely different matter.

  9. What Obama won’t pay for is the costs to educate the unaccompanied minors he allowed to cross the border and be set free. FCPS reports it has at least 100o such individuals. Even if we assume no special education or ESOL (LOL), we are talking more than $13 K per student. That’s $13 M. If the real cost is closer to $20 K per student, we are at $20 M. Why aren’t the feds paying these bills?

  10. they’re buying that prison in Farmville , right?

    but when you say Feds – pay – do you not think it is you?

    besides if we can turn down Fed money for health care – then what’s the problem?

    • Larry, of course the feds paying means we all pay – or at least all of us who pay federal taxes. But the feds let the unaccompanied minors into the country and FCPS has stated publically that a significant cause of its budget problems is the 1000 or so unaccompanied minors who need education. Moreover, many of them are not young children who pick up English rather easily, but rather, older kids who generally struggle with learning English. Instead of paying for Obama vacations, the money ought to reimburse school districts around the country.

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