Sick on the inside: Behind Bars in Immigrant-Only Prisons

Negligence in immigrant prisons & border patrol under fire and under the microscope

Sick On The Inside


Anyone who serves time for a federal crime will end up in what prison experts say is the best-run system in the country: the Federal Bureau of Prisons. But if you’re not a U.S. citizen, you could end up in one of 11 facilities that don’t have to follow the same rules – and are run by private companies instead of the government. 

This hour of Reveal investigates medical negligence in this parallel private prison system for immigrants. We also expose the shift in criminal justice policy that helped fill up these prisons.

Medical negligence in immigrant prisons 

For years, journalists and advocates have raised questions about medical care inside private federal prisons for noncitizens, especially in the wake of riots that inmates said were sparked by medical negligence. 

This segment exposes the truth behind those complaints, relying on extensive medical files obtained by Investigative Fund reporter Seth Freed Wessler. The files show case after case in which lower standards and less-qualified, less expensive workers together create a medical disaster.

Relying on those files and the testimony of inmates and prison workers, Reveal’s Stan Alcorn and Wessler tell the story of one of those medical disasters: the case of Nestor Garay. 

When crossing the border is a federal crime

While politicians debate border security, criminal charges for crossing the border have been steadily increasing for decades. More people are prosecuted for immigration-related federal crimes than for all other categories combined – white-collar crime, drugs, weapons, etc. This population makes up 40 percent of the inmates in private prisons for noncitizens. 

This segment explains how these prosecutions work and how they became so prevalent through the story of one man, tracked down by Investigative Fund reporter Seth Freed Wessler.

Eloy Flores ended up incarcerated at a private prison in Big Spring, Texas, but he got there through a circuitous journey. Retracing his steps takes us through Baltimore, a Border Patrol processing center and a courtroom proceeding that is like nothing you’ve heard before. 

Through interviews and exclusive audio obtained from the U.S. District Court, Reveal’s Stan Alcorn tells the story of Flores and his family.

Border Patrol under fire and under the microscope

One consequence of the ramp-up in immigration enforcement has been a doubling in the number of Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border. As the force has expanded, it’s come with problems such as corruption, abuse of power and questionable use of force – all documented in an internal investigation. 

Host Al Letson talks to reporter Andrew Becker about the troubles and efforts to reform the agency, asking the question: Will the Border Patrol be able to rebuild its reputation for upholding the law on the border?    

Reveal is a weekly radio program produced by The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. For more, check out our website and subscribe to our podcast.


  • Al Letson
    Al Letson is the host of Reveal's Peabody Award-winning public radio program and podcast showcasing investigative stories.