March 22, 2007
Corporate Responsibility and Private Prisons for Infants
Posted by Seth Chandler

Today's Houston Chronicle contains an editorial supporting closure of the federal Hutto Detention Center located in my home state. The medium security facility, run by Corrections Corporation of America imprisons infants and children who have done no wrong themselves, but whose parents have pending political asylum applications or are subject to deportation. As confirmed by The Chronicle and documented more fully elsewhere, the children are treated essentially as one would treat serious criminals, locked in their small cells much of the day, compelled to wear prison navy uniforms -- even in size one -- not permitted to own toys, and given minimal schooling and recreation. Apparently, during even a mild Texas December, the children were not allowed outside even once. Although it may be that some parents prefer this arrangement to those in which the kids are sent to some sort of foster care pending resolution of their legal cases, these parents were not given that choice.

I will add my voices to those who find this sort of imprisonment of children who have done no wrong and who are not demonstrated to be a threat to anyone to be an absolute disgrace to our government. It is also, as The Houston Chronicle has also reported, at odds with the way we treat at least some children who themselves have entered the United States and who have deportation pending. We do not need to lavish resources on those who have entered unlawfully, or perhaps even on those who are merely alleged to have entered unlawfully, but fostering these children (no panacea, to be sure) may well be cheaper anyway than incarcerating them. Regardless, however, the United States is wealthy enough that it can afford a lot better treatment than Hutto of innocent infants.

The issue I want to raise on this business-oriented blog, however, is what responsibility a private corporation, CCA, bears in this situation. To be sure, running prisons is not a business designed to win friends. It's a dirty business and I'm grateful in most instances that there are people willing to do it. I don't even have a particular problem in privatizing corrections. But surely there comes a point at which a private corporation has to say no. Hutto, in my view, goes way across the line. If the government doesn't shut it down or vastly improve conditions there, the shareholders of Hutto should insist that their management rapidly get out of a profoundly immoral activity that, amongst the least of its consequences, it not likely to improve that company's long run profitability.

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