How Private Prison Companies Are Influencing Immigration Policy

UCR Today

Groundbreaking study finds increased support for punitive immigration legislation in districts with privately owned or managed ICE detention facilities
By Tess Eyrich on July 9, 2018
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Published in the journal Race and Social Problems, a first-of-its-kind study from UCR political scientist Loren Collingwood links the presence of an ICE-contracted private detention facility in a federal legislator’s district to that legislator’s co-sponsorship of punitive immigration bills.

Photo credit: Brad Greeff via iStock

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Private prison stocks soared in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s 2016 election. Given his tough stance on immigration as a candidate, it’s easy to understand why.
According to political scientist Loren Collingwood, Trump’s proclivity for anti-immigrant rhetoric served as a signal to investors that the U.S. detainee pool would increase substantially in the wake of his election. The need for more facilities to house those detainees would also increase proportionally, which is where private prison operators come into the picture.
In recent years, Collingwood explained, more and more private prison companies have turned to a new money-making scheme as overall crime rates have dropped nationwide. Their strategy involves partnering with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to detain immigrants in facilities across the country. Through lucrative government contracts, private prison operators have expanded their “carceral market” to potentially include millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S.
But as the scope of private imprisonment grows, is the industry’s influence on politics growing as well?
Private companies, public policy
The question motivated Collingwood, an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside, to look closely at legislative trends in districts that are home to privately owned or managed ICE detention facilities.
Along with Jason L. Morin, an assistant professor of political science at California State University, Northridge, and Stephen Omar El-Khatib, …

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