The for-profit role in immigrant detention deaths

Recent media reports have detailed more than 80 people who have died while in the custody of federal immigration authorities since 2003, but names of the private contractors running the lockups where deaths occurred tend to be omitted.

Take a New York Times editorial on the immigrant deaths that was published last week.

In the piece, which strongly criticized the lack of federal oversight for such incidents, the Times cites the cases of Boubacar Bah, a Guinea immigrant who died from head injuries after being untreated for more than 14 hours in a New Jersey jail, and Francisco Castaneda, a immigrant from El Salvador who died of cancer after failing to be treated in a California lockup:

Not many Americans know the names of detained immigrants like Boubacar Bah of Guinea and Francisco Castaneda of El Salvador. Mr. Bah died after falling and fracturing his skull; his injuries went untreated for more than 14 hours. Mr. Castaneda died because the diagnosis and treatment of his cancer was tragically delayed. They, and dozens of others, should be memorialized as victims of a system scarred by malign neglect.

The government should be rushing to improve the oversight and care in its sprawling detention system to protect all detainees. Instead, the official reaction has been slow and defensive, promised improvements are piecemeal, and criticism of the system is making immigration hard-liners indignant.

But one name that is not disclosed in the editorial is Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the for-profit corrections firm that runs the prisons where the two men died of “malign neglect.”

It was only in March that a former high-ranking employee of CCA accused the company of purposefully minimizing and masking incidents of inmate violence that were reported to federal immigration authorities.

While it’s not currently known exactly how many fatalities have occurred in privatized facilities since 2003, multiple deaths have been reported in CCA prisons that hold immigrants.

In Colorado, CCA runs four correctional lockups, incarcerating roughly 20 percent of the state’s inmates, according to the Department of Corrections.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at