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Holding the Government Accountable

ICE Quietly Moving in to Take Over DOJ’s Private Prisons

Earlier this year, the Department of Justice (DOJ) made waves when it announced it would be curtailing its use of private prisons to house federal prisoners. Shortly following that announcement, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) took a baby step in the same direction, announcing the creation of a subcommittee to study and determine whether DHS should follow suit by decreasing its reliance on private immigration detention centers for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) recommended that DHS pause any procurement of new contracts and renewal of existing ones while it was reevaluating its reliance on private detention centers.

POGO’s concern was that awarding new contracts or exercising long-term options on existing contracts could lock DHS into deals that are neither good for federal taxpayers nor good for public policy. The relatively short time frame for the subcommittee’s review should have made this type of pause relatively unobtrusive. However, DHS not only substantively ignored POGO’s letter—they did issue a form letter in response that didn’t address the points raised—but it seems to have also disregarded our concerns about locking DHS into contracts that don’t advance good public policy.

The Washington Post reported last week that ICE is set to take over the Department of Justice’s newly emptied Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, moving in detainees as soon as this week. The move, and the new contract, is in addition to at least one other contract for a private detention center in Texas.

Entering into a new private detention center contract even while DHS is reviewing whether ICE should be decreasing its reliance on those centers doesn’t bode well for the relevance of the review. ICE seems comfortable moving forward with these contracts, regardless of whether facts support those moves.