In addition to what was just three private prisons in the state, the Trump Administration is allowing a fourth complex in Louisiana to hold asylum seekers captured by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The WINN Correctional Center, now managed by company LaSalle Corrections, was previously the focus of reporter Shane Bauer’s book on the prison industrial complex, American Prison released last year. WINN and their staff are primarily meant and trained for handling convicted criminals.
Around 1500 people are being held at the WINN facility, both immigrants and criminals. However, Marshall Goff, an attorney with the Mississippi law firm Chhabra & Gibbs told Mother Jones that 1000 more immigrants are expected to be moved to the facility in the near future.
The New Orleans office (in charge of covering LA and four other Southern states) of ICE last year released just 1.5 percent of those detained, and are now being sued by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center. The suit, filed on behalf of twelve immigrants, demands that ICE follow its own policy of releasing people once they’ve proved their identity and that they’re not a threat. Considering the amount of money it costs to hold an individual in detention per day, there may be financial interests in drawing out the process to its maximum length.
Of course, local jails could fill in for private prisons, though the likelihood of them being well-funded or equipped isn’t as likely. Still, under-staffed and under-trained, the private mission presses on.
Between 2002 and 2017, arrests of immigrants went down 57% but the detention population went up 91% according to government data. And, while Louisiana doesn’t have enough immigration judges to properly cover the swelling amount of cases (teleconference systems will be used to match for judges out of state – also costing money), our state depends upon the jobs and grants that accrue from the business of prison. Unfortunately, the swelling numbers of detainees have led to another problem: an overloaded court system.
New Orleans prides itself on being a “sanctuary city,” but the facts remain that Louisiana, despite and in spite of proposed and passed prison reform, is finding ways to keep this industry in the state. In fact, the expansion of immigrant detention to the WINN facility could allow ICE to hold more than 7,000 immigrants at a time in Louisiana, giving it the second-largest immigrant detention capacity in the country. Only Texas has more.
According to a report issued by the Government Accountability Office last year, audits found that “the (federal government) had paid state and local governments significantly more than the actual and allowable costs” for immigrant detention.
As Denise Gilman, a University of Texas Law School professor told Reuters: “the private prison industry is making even greater profits as the Trump administration makes harsher calls.”
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved.