Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

California's latest private immigrant detention center

Photo by Jason Nahrung/Flickr (Creative Commons)

As California grapples with how to reduce its prison population, there is one group of inmates that keeps expanding: federal immigration detainees, a growing number of then held by private jailers.

The California high desert prison town of Adelanto, already home to federal and state facilities, will now be home to up to 1,300 immigrant detainees in a former city-owned prison that was sold last year to the GEO Group. The Florida-based company is one the nation's biggest private prison firms and holds a large number of contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The Adelanto story is typical of how private immigration detention contracts are made. Last year, the cash-strapped city sold a city-owned prison, once used to house up to 650 low-level state offenders, to the Florida-based GEO Group. About 100 jail employees were laid off.

GEO Group bought it without a contract for prisoners, but with plans to find an agency that would buy the space. And it did. ICE, whose detainee population has swelled in the last decade due to tougher enforcement policies, has contracted the space from GEO. From a company press release:

The GEO Group (NYSE: GEO) ("GEO") announced today that the City of Adelanto, California (the "City") has signed a contract with GEO for the housing of federal immigration detainees at a 650-bed Detention Facility (the "Facility") in Adelanto, California, which GEO purchased from the City in June of 2010 for approximately $28.0 million, and at a 650-bed Facility expansion to be located on land immediately adjacent to the Facility. With the addition of the Adelanto detention beds, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be able to end the long standing practice of transferring immigration detainees to other offices due to a lack of detention space in the area.

GEO has invested approximately $22.0 million to renovate and retrofit the existing 650-bed Facility and will further invest approximately $70.0 million for the 650-bed expansion which will bring the Facility's capacity to 1,300 beds. GEO expects to complete the renovation of the existing Facility and to begin the initial intake of 650 detainees in August 2011. GEO expects to complete the new 650-bed expansion and to begin the intake of the additional 650 detainees by August 2012.

Once the detention center reaches full occupancy, it's expected to generate approximately $42 million in annual revenue for GEO. There is also a 75 percent occupancy guarantee, standard practice.

The agreement is a standard public-private detention arrangement. It's one of a few types of arrangements that ICE has with contractors to house detained immigrants,  who are held in custody while awaiting or fighting deportation, not as punishment. A small percentage of ICE detainees are held in agency-run detention centers; most are held in facilities from which ICE contracts space, which are:

a) Privately owned facilities that contract directly with ICE

b)  Facilities contracted from local governments, usually with the local government acting as middleman for a private company

c) County jails where ICE rents bed space, plus a handful in other public facilities, including rented federal prison space

The latter contract arrangements are referred to by the agency as Intergovernmental Service Agreements, or IGSAs. ICE published an impressively long list of its IGSA contracts last year.