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One glaring omission from Prison Photography is ICE detention centres and the prisons specifically designed for immigrants. Apart from the public stunts of Sheriff Arpaio (here and here) I have not featured any photography of immigrant detention or prisons.

This is partly because immigration policy and deportation infrastructures aren’t an area I know much about, but mainly because immigrant jails and prisons are the most invisible of all prisons in America. The media simply cannot get access like they can into state and county sites of incarceration.

As a course of policy, ICE detention sites are kept hidden. Allow me to push back against that a little:

Map courtesy of Global Detention Project.
More resources at the Detention Watch Network

In an attempt to redress this dearth of immigration coverage on Prison Photography, I point you in the direction of Tom Barry’s interview on Fresh Air yesterday. Thanks to Bob for the tip-off.

Here’s some things I learnt:

– Over the past five years immigrant imprisonment has increased 400%
– The policy of immediate deportation for illegal immigrants was replaced by imprisonment and deportation; a deliberate tactic intended to punish and deter future attempts to cross the US border illegally.
– Legal definitions of crime have broadened since 1996. Couple this with a syncopation of agency databases means constant threats of stop, search, detention and deportation of immigrants (both legal and illegal) now exist that did not 5 years ago.
– In this new era distinctions between legal and illegal immigrants have shrunk.
– Legal immigrants are subject to “a separate penal system”.
– 30% of deportees to Mexico don’t speak Spanish.
– The 11 border prisons are intentionally remote and located in economically depressed towns along the US/Mexico border.
– Immigrant prisons have a structure of financing and ownership that is unique. Tom Barry calls it “The Public/Private Prison Complex”, in which tax dollars and private corporations mix and match the funding. In many instances, administrators could not actually state who owned the facilities. This results in diluted accountability.
– The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Geo group are the two largest private prison companies involved in immigrant detention.
– Privatised prisons were once a rarity in America. CCA and Geo got their start under Reagan winning contracts to house immigrants.
– CCA and Geo have enjoyed record profits over the past 8 years. 45% of their income derives from from state and federal contracts outsourcing immigrant detention.
– The perversely named ‘Operation Reservation Guaranteed’ means that detainees will always be sent to a bed/cell even if it is on the other side of the country. The transportation costs are met by the tax-payer.
– Wackenhut, an arm of Geo group, is the sub-contractor for these long, expensive and unnecessary transportations.
– It is common that detainees are moved without warning or reason. It is common that detainees cannot be located by the private prison companies for long periods.
– And much, much more. Listen, I highly recommend.

Tom Barry covers border security and immigration issues as the Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for International Policy. He has written several books, including The Great Divide and Zapata’s Revenge.

Tom just published A Death in Texas a piece for the Boston Review about a riot at an ICE prison in Texas. The riot was an “act of solidarity” by the detained population following the death of a young prisoner.

Tom maintains the Border Lines blog for the TransBorder Project is a project of the Americas Policy Program in Mexico City and the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC..

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