Here is an interesting story about quiet plans to build a privately-run prison for illegal immigrants in a wealthy Florida town that helps illustrate the issues of having private prisons, NIMBY concerns, and immigration:
Only the leaders of Southwest Ranches kept their plans quiet from residents for almost a decade, and the project has now ballooned into what would be among the federal government’s largest immigrant detention centers. The town would have to pay $150,000 each year to keep the prison, but officials say the town would turn a profit by getting 4 percent of what U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays the company operating the prison to hold inmates there.
Many residents finally caught wind of the idea this year, when the immigration agency announced a tentative deal, and they’re angry. They’ve held protests at public meetings, contemplated whether to recall the mayor before his March election and whether to amend the town charter to make it easier to fire the city attorney pushing the deal.
The objection over the prison has created an odd set of allies among the town’s affluent residents, many of whom are wary of illegal immigrants, and longtime activists who fight for immigrants, legal or not…
But according to Mayor Jeff Nelson and others involved at the time, the plan for some kind of prison run by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, was always integral to Southwest Ranches’ ability to survive.
The town, a self-described “rural lifestyle community” located southwest of Fort Lauderdale, is for the equestrian set. There are several very interesting cross-currents in this story:
1. Lots of towns need revenue. Not only will Southwest Ranches earn money per inmate but there will be jobs at the prison.
2. Immigration is a hot-button issue. Shouldn’t people in town opposed to illegal immigration welcome such facilities?
3. But, of course, those worried about illegal immigration probably don’t want the prison right next to them. Classic NIMBY situation – build it somewhere else.
4. Local officials have done this quietly and it appears residents may not be able to do much at this point about halting the process.
The conclusion of this story makes it sound like the NIMBY concerns win out – as one resident says, “In the opposition to the prison, both sides of the immigration debate are represented.” I can’t say I’m surprised – what wealthy community would want a prison in town? If the private company doesn’t end up building in this town, how difficult will it be for them to find another town who needs the revenue? And if this community does indeed need revenue, would these same residents be willing to give up services or pay higher taxes?