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Isa Peña

June 29, 2023

Portland, Ore – A new report published by Innovation Law Lab offers recommendations for rural communities and elected officials who oppose the persistent human rights abuses in their backyards but are financially bound to the ICE detention centers and prisons perpetuating those abuses.

In its report, Innovation Law Lab offers a resource for rural communities and lawmakers looking to understand and move away from the impacts of immigration prisons.

Thrive: A Blueprint for Policy and Public Officials for Self-Reliant Rural Communities Without Immigration Prisons details the extensive harms of immigration detention, both inside and outside prison walls. The harms experienced by detained individuals include inhumane conditions, lack of access to fair legal proceedings, and extensive solitary confinement in punitive conditions for individuals who self-report mental health concerns. The report also describes how detention inflicts harms on prison staff, who experience heightened rates of suicidality, PTSD, and divorce rates.

While elected officials in prison towns often defend the prisons in their communities as economically beneficial projects, the report draws on decades of research to expose how prisons contribute to economic stagnation. Prisons stigmatize rural communities as “prison towns,” fail to meaningfully improve local job prospects, and send resources to large, outside companies rather than investing in local economies.

“The reliance of many rural communities on prison economies creates an incentive for elected officials to allow human rights abuses to go unchecked and leaves prison towns vulnerable to economic stagnation in the long run and financial shock in the wake of an unanticipated prison closure,” explained Allison Crennen-Dunlap, Staff Attorney at Innovation Law Lab and co-author of the report. “We hope this report can serve as a resource for rural communities, grassroots organizations, and lawmakers who are looking to meet the problem head on.”

The report makes several recommendations as to how rural communities and local lawmakers can promote just transitions for rural prison towns, including by prioritizing people-led decision-making, exploring new and existing development opportunities to support prison staff and local communities as they transition away from prison employment, repurposing immigration prisons, and advocating for the release of detained individuals.

You can read the full report here.


Innovation Law Lab leverages law, technology and organizing to end isolation and exploitation of immigrants and refugees, build permanent pathways to immigrant inclusion, and advance justice.