Congress told ICE to decrease detentions. Then ICE spent $20 million+ expanding its network.
After Congress mandated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) decrease its detention population in February 2019, the agency spent more than $20 million on new contracts to fund multiple prisons in Louisiana, according to documents obtained by CREW. Much of the money appears to be going to LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company quickly gaining notoriety for horrific human rights abuses.
The documents reveal that two months after Congress told ICE to decrease detentions, ICE filed a proposal for additional bed space at Winn Correctional Center. According to a White Paper Proposal for Additional Bed Space, the detention center, managed by LaSalle, was to “be used as a long term temporary facility to support the current mass illegal immigratate population” and “continue supporting ICE after the mass totals subside.” The initial capacity of the facility was 1,576 beds. ICE wanted to double the capacity for a total of 3,152 beds. Prior to the application, Winn Correctional Center was not housing immigrants detained by ICE. A contract signed on May 17, 2019 between ICE and the Winn Parish Sheriff indicates that the contract for bed space would cost taxpayers nearly $13 million for one year. That figure includes more than $7 million for a year’s worth of detention bed days, and more than $5 million to install a previously nonexistent air conditioning system. The following December, ICE officers at the Winn Correctional Center pepper-sprayed about 50 detainees who were peacefully protesting.
In July, a whistleblower who worked at LaSalle’s Richwood Correctional Center said that he had been instructed to “freeze… out” migrants with fevers so that they could be transported in the middle of the ongoing pandemic. According to the new documents obtained by CREW, ICE has at least a $1.9 million contract with the Town of Richwood, likely to run this detention center.
The other Louisiana contracts ICE penned pertaining to Catahoula Correctional Center, River Correctional Center, Richwood Correctional Center, LaSalle Correctional Center and Jackson Parish Correctional Center also cost millions of dollars each. Because ICE contracted with the sheriff’s offices or parishes that house the centers, rather than directly with LaSalle Corrections, it’s hard to know exactly how much went to the company.
The Louisiana contracts detailed above provide a small snapshot of what private prison contracting looks like in America. CREW received nearly 2,500 pages of various contracts and amendments that indicate ICE potentially obligated $98,477,767.10 on contracts in Louisiana between 2018-2019. The totals we came to are indefinite without more information because the records are inconsistently redacted and sloppy.
What the records obtained by CREW do show is that ICE spent more than $20 million expanding its detention capacity for months after Congress explicitly told the agency to do the opposite, and likely did so without providing notice to Congress or the public. Not only that, ICE contracted with a company notorious for human rights abuses, including, most recently, allegations of forced hysterectomies. We know that ICE is spending multiple millions of federal dollars, but the records we obtained provide the public with more questions than answers. And in cases of high dollar spending and human rights abuses against people held in federal custody, taxpayers deserve answers.