detention center nogales
© ReutersTwo young girls watch a World Cup soccer match on a television from their holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona June 18, 2014.
The Department of Homeland Security this week handed the keys to the largest detention center for undocumented immigrant families over to Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison company with a record of disregarding inmate safety and flouting federal laws. The Obama administration announced on Monday that CCA would run a 50-acre compound in Dilley, Texas, that will ultimately hold 2,400 women and children awaiting release or deportation.

In 2012, CCA settled out of court with the American Civil Liberties Union after the ACLU sued on behalf of inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center. Because CCA had not hired enough staff, in 2008, the CCA-run correctional facility experienced four times as many prisoner-on-prisoner assaults as Idaho's seven other prisons combined, the ACLU found. Inmates called the facility "the gladiator school." The 2012 suit also charged CCA with falsifying records and billing the state for 4,800 hours of work at posts that in actuality remained vacant. In 2013, a federal judge held CCA in contempt of court for continuing to understaff the prison, even after it was successfully sued by the ACLU. CCA lost its $30 million contract for the prison with the state, and the FBI launched an investigation into the company in 2014.

CCA's reputation doesn't end with Idaho. In 2013, the Texas Observer called the state's CCA-run Dawson State Jail for nonviolent offenders in Dallas "the worst state jail in Texas." Seven inmates have died in Dawson since 2004, among them 30-year-old Ashleigh Parker, who died of pneumonia while an inmate. Parker's family claims CCA staff denied her life-saving antibiotics. They filed a lawsuit, but later dropped it. In 2010, 45-year-old Pamela Weatherby died from diabetes-related complications after CCA staff at Dawson replaced her medically prescribed insulin injections with cheaper oral insulin. Weatherby suffered through multiple diabetic comas before her death. Her family is also suing CCA.

Perhaps the most grisly tale out of Dawson is Autumn Miller's. Miller gave birth to a premature baby at 26 weeks after CCA guards refused her cries for medical attention, she claims. She delivered her daughter, Gracie, into a prison toilet. Gracie lived four days. Miller, too, is suing CCA.

Furthermore, in 2012, riots broke out at two CCA-run prisons in Mississippi. In one instance, inmates killed one guard and took CCA employees hostage.

Now, the Obama administration has given CCA the reins of the federal government's largest detention facility for undocumented immigrant families, a group that already faces a higher-than-average risk of assault and sexual abuse in detention centers. The compound, a former oil field worker's camp about 70 miles southwest of San Antonio, will hold 2,400 women and children, who will remain at the facility, run by CCA, until they are released or deported.

A 2011 investigation by Frontline found that few of the more than 170 complaints filed against guards by federal immigration detainees for sexual abuse over the course of four years were even investigated by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Texas facility is not the first immigration detention center run by CCA. In April 2013, two Guatemalan nationals held at the Eloy Detention Center outside Phoenix, Arizona, another CCA-run facility, committed suicide three days apart. At the time, Alessandra Soler, executive director of the ACLU of Arizona, told Prison Legal News, "Suicides are a red flag. They usually signify a much larger problem. Sometimes it's because of ineffective mental health treatment, but often times it's caused by poor staffing issues."

In 2005, a female detainee at a CCA-run immigrant detention facility in Otay Mesa, near San Diego, sued CCA, claiming a correctional officer raped her twice. The guard was fired as a direct result of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Investigations, but both the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Civil Rights Division declined to prosecute him, according to a report by the DHS's Office of Inspector General. The report also found that, in May, 2005, a detainee at a CCA facility in San Diego alleged a correctional officer "dislodged him from his wheelchair when he tried to enter another area." The detainee suffered no injuries, CCA medical staff found, and the correctional officer was placed on administrative leave.

CCA, the largest for-profit prison company in the country, is worth more than $1 billion. It has long lobbied for stricter laws against illegal immigration, whose enforcement means more detainees for its prisons. Arizona's controversial immigration law, SB 1070, which requires police to detain individuals if there is a "reasonable suspicion" that they are not in the country legally, was in fact initially drafted by a group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Representatives from CCA were part of the committee that drafted the legislation for ALEC, according to an investigation by NPR. And of the 36 legislators who co-sponsored the bill in Arizona's legislature, 30 received campaign donations from CCA. Yet, representatives from CCA deny that the company engages in immigration law lobbying.

A request for comment to CCA by phone was not immediately returned.