Elizabeth Warren Wants to Ban Private Prisons

Warren’s proposal would end all contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have with private detention providers.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - APRIL 27:  Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) speaks at the National Forum on Wages and Working People: Creating an Economy That Works for All at Enclave on April 27, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Six of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are attending the forum, held by the Service Employees International Union and the Center for American Progress Action Fund, to share their economic policies.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks at an event in Las Vegas on April 27, 2019. Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on Friday rolled out a plan to ban private prisons and detention facilities and stop companies from profiting off mass incarceration. The 2020 hopeful introduced the proposal ahead of her appearance at the NALEO Presidential Candidate Forum, addressing the largest gathering of Latinx policymakers in the country.

“Washington hands billions over to corporations profiting off of inhumane detention and incarceration policies while ignoring the families that are destroyed in the process,” Warren wrote in a Medium post outlining the policy. “We need to call that out for what it is: corruption. Incarcerating and detaining millions for profit doesn’t keep us safe. It’s time to do better.”

Her proposal would shut down federal private detention facilities by ending all contracts the Federal Bureau of Prisons and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have with private detention providers. Private prisons have expanded significantly over the last two decades, and companies like CoreCivic and GEO Group have profited immensely from the business of incarceration. Since Donald Trump’s entry into office, and due to his administration’s aggressive immigration policies, business for private prisons is booming.

“Washington works hand-in-hand with private prison companies, who spend millions on lobbyists, campaign contributions, and revolving-door hires — all to turn our criminal and immigration policies into ones that prioritize making them rich instead of keeping us safe,” she wrote.

According to the Detention Watch Network, more than 73 percent of detained immigrants are held in facilities run by private companies. To ban the facilities in states and localities, Warren explained, federal public safety funding would be conditioned on their use of public facilities.

From 2000 to 2016, the lawmaker noted, the private prison population grew five times as quickly as the overall prison population and today, nearly 4,000 corporations rake in profits from mass incarceration.

A 2016 Justice Department report found that private prisons, which subject detainees to forced labor, are significantly less safe than federal ones as contract prisons tend to have higher rates of assaults, both by inmates on other inmates and by inmates on staff.

“They violate federal rules by putting incarcerated people into solitary confinement to fit more bodies in the building,” Warren added. “They impose forced labor on immigrants just to make a buck. Multiple detainees have committed suicide. And now, under Trump, babies are getting sick and dying from their detention centers.”

Her plan also prohibits other practices contractors use to reap profit from mass incarceration, including charging for services like phone calls and health care, steep markups on services like commissary, and charging for re-entry and probation services.

“While contractors getting paid taxpayer dollars cut corners to maximize margins, the government has turned a blind eye,” she continued. “Food companies make millions but serve bug-infested food to save cash. An investigation into a prison transport company that allowed at least five deaths and a sexual assault to occur under their watch has gone nowhere.”

A recent surge of national support has pushed Warren into second place in some surveys, polling behind former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s running as a centrist promising not to “demonize” the rich. The latest Economist/YouGov poll showed Warren polling at 14 percent in the crowded primary, just barely ahead of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 13 percent. The poll surveyed 1,500 adults, which included 1,202 registered voters, from June 16 to 18.

Join The Conversation