The Business of Detention project is a U.S.-based online publication created by reporters Stokely Baksh and Renee Feltz, while graduate students at Columbia University’s Graduate of Journalism. Our desire was to create an innovative way to present the business of privatized detention services — using solid reporting skills and pairing that up with video and interactive info graphics. This was also an experiment for us in creating a platform for a news product, that largely went under reported in mainstream news when we started the Corrections Corporation of America investigative project in late 2007. That project became the first investigative-new media project for the University and has since won the Melvin Mencher Award for Superior Reporting and James A. Wechsler Award for National Reporting, and a finalist at the 2009 SXSW Interactive Awards.
Since the launch of the site, we have had thousands of visitors and emails sent to us on our report, and because of this, we remain committed to continuing our immigration detention coverage and expanding the potential of the The Business of Detention platform. We will be rolling out a new interactive, investigative project later this year, with the addition of Asif Baksh, as our Webmaster.
Corrections Corporation of America Investigative Report 2008
When we first began to look at the phenomenon of immigrant detention in the United States, the obvious step to take as investigative journalists was to follow the money. We found that the trail of taxpayer dollars led primarily to the Corrections Corporation of America, a company that had been on the brink of bankruptcy as recently as 2001. Our desire was to present a picture of how the nation’s largest private prison company had partnered with the federal government to detain close to a million undocumented immigrants until they were deported, and in the process fill their empty beds and increase revenue by X percent. CCA now has close to 10,000 new beds under development in anticipation of continued demand.
Our methodology included traveling to Texas to observe detention centers in Laredo, Houston and Taylor, Texas, and talk to a CCA official at the Houston Processing Center. We also spoke with immigrants and their families about being in the facilities, and opponents of the privatization of immigrant detention. We FOIA’d a list of CCA contracts with ICE and the US Marshals Service, and found them to be of minimal use when the financial amounts on the documents were redacted, as were the contracts shared with us by TRAC from a similar FOIA. We read through testimony of ICE and CCA officials before congressional appropriations committees, CCA quarterly and annual reports, 10-K and 8-K filings, DEF 14-A, and transcripts of the CCA executives conference calls with financial analysts. We examined lobbying reports the company filed in the Senate’s disclosure database, and their political connections on the Hill.
Thank You’s in no specific order: Bob Libal, Asif Baksh, Matthew Gossage, Luisanna Santibanez, Judy Greene, Dustin Ogdin, Jose Orta, Tish Stringer, Sheila Coronel, Jim Mintz, John Tarleton, Sean Crowley, Mayra Moreno, Jim Ellinger, Rob Block, Deepa Fernandes, Forrest Wilder, Meredith Kolodner, Susan Long of TRAC, Katherine A. Day of OFDT, Ryan Law of ICE, NYCinteractive.org team, 2008 Stabile Fellows, our parents and everyone else who helped us along the way.
Photo Credits: Associated Press Photo Archives