Race and Social Problems

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 275–292 | Cite as

Expanding Carceral Markets: Detention Facilities, ICE Contracts, and the Financial Interests of Punitive Immigration Policy

  • Loren CollingwoodEmail author
  • Jason L. Morin
  • Stephen Omar El-Khatib


On the night of November 8, 2016, once election results showed an almost certain presidential victory for Donald Trump, private prison stock values increased. Trump’s harsh anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric, followed by his attempted crackdown on sanctuary cities (and immigrants more generally), had the potential to expand the carceral market to greater shares of undocumented immigrants. We develop a theory of carceral market expansion, arguing that private actors seek to expand carceral markets—for profit—just as in any other market. This paper examines whether private companies, like Core Civic and GEO, that contract with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) to operate detention facilities exert influence over federal immigration legislation in the 113th and 114th Congresses. Specifically, we examine (1) whether campaign donations made by private prison companies and other contractors to legislators (carceral lobbying hypothesis), and (2) having a privately owned or managed ICE detention facility in a legislator’s district (carceral representation hypothesis) increases the probability that legislators will co-sponsor more harsh immigration legislation in the U.S. states. We find strong support for the carceral representation hypothesis but limited to no support for the carceral lobbying hypothesis. Implications are discussed.


Private prisons Immigration policy Representation Lobbying 



We thank Breanna Javier for excellent research assistance, Becca Thorpe for her comments during the early phases of data collection, and Hannah Walker for organizing an APSA panel, and for her comments on an early draft of the manuscript. We also thank participants of the Immigration Research Group and Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside, especially Karthick Ramakrishnan.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of California, RiversideRiversideUSA
  2. 2.California State University, NorthridgeLos AngelesUSA

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