Private Prisons Memo Could Signal More Immigrant Lockups


Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he wants to maintain contracts with private prisons because he's concerned about meeting the federal correctional system's "future needs." But he hasn't said what those needs might be.

The answer may lie in the Trump administration's hardline approach to immigration enforcement.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons' 20-year relationship with privately run lockups hinges on the housing of immigrants. Almost all of the 21,405 people currently serving time in one of those low-security facilities have been designated as "criminal aliens" ─ non-citizens who will likely be deported after they serve their sentences, according to bureau statistics.

Most have been convicted either of drug offenses or of immigration-related crimes, such as trying to re-enter the United States after already being deported, according to the agency.

A day later, Sessions rescinded an Obama administration plan to phase out Bureau of Prisons contracts with private prisons, saying it "changes long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau's ability to meet the future needs of the correctional system."

A Justice Department spokesman did not respond to a request for an explanation of Sessions' memo.

A history of zero-tolerance

Immigration advocates say they fear a return, and then some, to record levels of criminal prosecutions under the Obama administration for illegal entry and illegal re-entry, which now outnumber all other federal prosecutions.

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