By Tess Eyrich
RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) — 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?
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, a doctoral student in the Department of Political Science at UCR, Collingwood assessed support for proposed punitive immigration legislation among members of the 113th and 114th Congresses, which spanned from 2013-15 and 2015-17, respectively.
The researchers published their findings online last week in the journal Race and Social Problems. In an article titled “Expanding Carceral Markets: Detention Facilities, ICE Contracts, and the Financial Interests of Punitive Immigration Policy,” they reported the discovery of a significant link between the presence of an ICE-contracted private detention facility in a federal legislator’s district and that legislator’s co-sponsorship of punitive immigration bills.
“Legislators representing districts where privately contracted companies manage or own detention facilities are more likely to introduce anti-immigrant bills by a factor of three,” they added.
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