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DHS to review use of private prisons for immigration detention

The Department of Homeland Security is reviewing its use of privately-owned prisons to hold immigrants, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Monday. 

Nearly two weeks ago, the Justice Department announced that it would substantially reduce, and ultimately end the use of privately-operated prisons. 

Though the Justice Department's announcement affected 13 facilities nationwide, none of them where in Arizona. 

However, Monday's announcement could affect four facilities in Arizona run under contract for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This includes the Central Arizona Detention Center, the Florence Correctional Center, the Eloy Federal Contract Facility, and the San Luis Regional Detention Center. 

Overall, ICE has around 180 facilities nationwide, including 46 that are operated by private contractors. Of these, 11 are privately owned and operated and another 35 are owned by public institutions but operated by private contractors. 

Around 72 percent of the people held under contract with ICE were in privately-run or owned facilities, said an ICE official. 

As of August 20, ICE facilities held 37,580 people and about 29,557 of those were considered "mandatory detention cases." 

In a statement, Johnson said he directed the Homeland Security Advisory Council to evaluate the detention of immigrants by ICE, and consider whether DHS should "move in the same direction."

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Johnson said he directed Judge William Webster, the chair of the HSAC, to create a subcommittee to "review our current policy and practices concerning the use of private immigration detention and evaluate whether this practice should be eliminated." 

The subcommittee should review "all factors concerning ICE’s detention policy and practice, including fiscal considerations," said Johnson. 

Following the review, the full council has until November 30 to provide a full report, which will be submitted to Johnson and the director of ICE, he said. 

Johnson's announcement comes just months after DHS agreed to a four-year, $1 billion contract with Corrections Corporation of America, a private-prison company, for the creation of a brand-new facility in Dilley, Texas designed to hold asylum seekers, primarily women and children, who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, fleeing from rampant violence and poverty in Central America. 

In a joint statement, Arizona Rep. Raúl Grijalva and former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders praised the announcement. 

Grijava said he was "glad" DHS is reviewing the use of private prisons to detain immigrants. 

"DOJ’s announcement last week that it would cut ties with incarceration profiteers was welcome, but long overdue, " Grijalva said. "I hope that DHS’s review is a signal that they will follow suit."  

"The Department of Homeland Security should follow the lead of the Department of Justice and phase out for-profit, privately run immigration detention facilities," Sanders said. "These private prisons cost more and are less humane." 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

The logo for Corrections Corporation of America hangs over the front gate of a prison complex in Eloy, where unauthorized immigrants are held under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.