The City of Adelanto, California, greets visitors with a sign, proclaiming it to be a city of "unlimited possibilities." However, when you drive through this small town in the Mojave Desert, it is clear the city is known for only one possibility: incarceration. Currently, there are four large detention centers within 10 miles of one another. On any given day, up to 9,325 people are incarcerated in immigration detention, federal prison, state prison and a county jail in this area.
Meanwhile, there is no middle school or high school district in Adelanto. In 2012, the neighboring Victor Valley High School District finalized the building of a high school in Adelanto. However, the school did not open for two years because it was $3.4M over budget. Adelanto's youth attended high school in trailers on the campus of a continuation school in Victorville for the past two years while the new campus sat vacant.
Despite this construction fiasco for the school district, the City of Adelanto recently renovated its county jail, increasing bed spaces by 200 percent. It was $25.4M over budget, yet it still opened in February 2014.
This is not the only prison expansion facing Adelanto. GEO Group, a publicly traded prison corporation, is currently expanding its immigration detention facility in Adelanto by 640 beds, which will be completed by the end of Summer 2015. This expansion will make the Adelanto Detention Facility the largest immigration detention center in the country with 1,940 beds. Additionally, there are talks about breaking ground on a 3,280 bed facility by another for-profit prison, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and on another GEO Group facility for the state with an undisclosed number of beds.
The total proposed prison expansion will mean that close to 15,000 people will be incarcerated within 10 miles. Adelanto's population is just over 32,000 people. After the proposed expansions are complete, there will be enough cages for roughly half of Adelanto's population.
The expansion of the immigration detention facility in Adelanto might seem to go against President Obama's recent rhetoric supporting immigration reform. However, the reality is that our federal government, including the executive branch, is beholden to the private prison lobby. Since 2008, the private prison industry has spent more than $14.6 million dollars in federal lobby expenditures and $3.2 million in federal campaign contributions. Private prison lobbies are responsible for the congressional bed quota that requires 34,000 people to be in immigration detention each day. Not surprisingly, since the inception of the bed quota, the share of detention beds operated by private prison corporations has expanded from 49 percent to 59 percent.
This lobbying has translated into profits for private prison corporations. For example, GEO Group receives more taxpayer dollars for immigration detention than any other government contractor. Assuming that all 1,300 beds are filled at the Adelanto Detention Facility, GEO Group stands to make over $45M each year, paying the City only about $225,000 per year. Never mind that the City of Adelanto looks like it's headed toward bankruptcy due to a $2.6 million deficit. And never mind Adelanto hotels and restaurants are losing business each day because no one wants to come to a prison town, while GEO Group generally does not pay corporate income tax as it is classified as a Real Estate Investment Trust. Instead of investing in the people of Adelanto, the City of Adelanto is expanding incarceration and proposing a regressive 7.95 percent utility tax for homeowners and businesses.
Something seems wrong with this picture.
GEO Group and the Adelanto Detention Facility have been the subject of countless abuse and neglect allegations, including the death of Mr. Fernando Dominguez while in ICE custody in 2012. Only after his death did the U.S. Office of Detention Oversight investigate the medical staff at Adelanto, finding that Mr. Dominguez' death could have been prevented and that the Adelanto Detention Facility did not comply with government guidelines.
Advocates also have documented inadequate health care, arbitrary and overuse of solitary confinement, lack of sufficient nutrients and maggots in the food at the Adelanto Detention Facility. Detained immigrants also have reported harassment by GEO staff and intimidation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Funding an expansion of the Adelanto Detention Facility is irresponsible. This expansion is particularly irresponsible for the City of Adelanto. The City's financial reports are missing from the last two years, and the City's projected revenue from the facility suggests that the facility was not even at full capacity when GEO Group announced the expansion. The City of Adelanto should follow in the footsteps of Los Angeles County and end its contract with ICE. The City of Adelanto should Defund Detention.