The New York Times has a front-page feature on how the US, Britain and Australia have looked to “a handful of [private] multinational security companies,” primarily GEO Group, Serco and G4S, have turned expanded immigration detention policies in all three countries “into a growing global industry.” Nina Bernstein, Getting Tough On Immigrants To Turn a Profit, N.Y. Times, Sept. 29, 2011, at A1:
Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.
But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.
… In the United States — with almost 400,000 annual detentions in 2010, up from 280,000 in 2005 — private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons, according to government figures. In Britain, 7 of 11 detention centers and most short-term holding places for immigrants are run by for-profit contractors.
… Companies often say that losing a contract is the ultimate accountability.
“We are acutely aware of our responsibilities and are committed to the humane, fair and decent treatment of all those in our care,” a Serco spokesman said in an e-mail. “We will continue to work with our customers around the world and seek to improve the services we provide for them.”
But lost detention contracts are rare and easily replaced in this fast-growing business. Serco’s $10 billion portfolio includes many other businesses, from air traffic control and visa processing in the United States, to nuclear weapons maintenance, video surveillance and welfare-to-work programs in Britain, where it also operates several prisons and two “immigration removal centers.”
“If one area or territory slows down, we can move where the growth is,” Christopher Hyman, Serco’s chief executive, told investors last year, after reporting a 35 percent increase in profits. This spring, Serco reported a 13 percent profit rise.
Its rival G4S delivers cash to banks on most continents, runs airport security in 80 countries and has 1,500 employees in immigration enforcement in Britain, the Netherlands and the United States, where its services include escorting illegal border-crossers back to Mexico for the Department of Homeland Security.