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Incarceration rates are beginning to fall, but big, for-profit prison companies have a growing line of business: immigrant detention.

Expand chart
Data: USASpending.gov; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

By the numbers: As of November 2017, 71% of detained immigrants were being held in private detention facilities, according to government data obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center.

  • Since Trump became president, ICE has awarded more than $480 million in federal funds to GEO Group and more than $331 million to CoreCivic, according to USA Spending.

It's a similar situation to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when all levels of government began struggling to handle the surge in prison populations and turned to private prison companies to help, Brennan Center for Justice Program Director Inimai Chettiar told Axios.

  • The government is "rapidly increasing immigration detention, and outsourcing it to the private sector."

Between the lines: These privately run detention centers often hire fewer staff members, require less training of them or don't implement programming for detainees, Randy Capps, director of research for U.S. programs at the Migration Policy Institute, told Axios. Some have even been sued for imposing forced labor on immigrants.

  • "When you have kind of weak standards and you have a for-profit motive, you wind up with understaffing and you wind up with lack of services and activities," Capps said. "That's where you get to health problems, and you probably have mental health problems, too."
  • A spokesperson from CoreCivic, however, said this is not the case. They said detention centers are held to strict staffing standards by ICE and at least one of CoreCivic’s family facilities provides migrants amenities such as gyms, parks, a playroom and a library.

The other side: If private prisons did not hold immigrants, they would likely be sent to local jails, which often struggle to meet the federal government's detention standards, according to a GEO Group spokesperson. Private companies are also more able to adapt to seasonal trends of unauthorized immigration, adds a CoreCivic spokesperson.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Minnesota governor denounces alleged police violence against media

Law enforcement officers pepper spray freelance photographer Tim Evans (L) as he identifies himself a working journalist outside the Brooklyn Center police station on Friday. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Gov. Tim Walz (D) spoke out Sunday over allegations that journalists covering unrest in the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Center have endured police violence, telling CBS Minnesota: "Apologies are not enough, it just cannot happen."

Why it matters: Since violations of press freedoms came to national attention last year, with reports of journalists being arrested and assaulted while covering anti-racism protests, violent encounters with law enforcement seem to have become the norm.

7 hours ago - World

In photos: Students evacuated as wildfire burns historic Cape Town buildings

Firefighters try, in vain, to extinguish a fire in the Jagger Library, at the University of Cape Town, after a forest fire came down the foothills of Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sunday. Photo: Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images

A massive wildfire spread from the foothills of Table Mountain to the University of Cape Town Sunday, burning historic South African buildings and forcing the evacuation of 4,000 students, per Times Live.

The big picture: Visitors to the Table Mountain National Park and other nearby attractions were also evacuated and several roads including a major highway, were closed. South Africa's oldest working windmill and the university's Jagger Library, which houses SA antiquities, were among the buildings damaged.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

3 killed, 2 wounded overnight in Kenosha bar shooting

Three people died and two others were hospitalized with serious injuries after a gunman opened fire in a bar in Kenosha County, Wisconsin, the police department said in a statement on Sunday.

The latest: Officers arrested a "person of interest" Sunday afternoon in connection with the 12:42 a.m. shooting and there's "no threat to the community at this time," per a police statement.