by Chuck Sharman
In a filing with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on January 5, 2022, Florida-based GEO Group—the nation’s largest private prison operator—laid bare its strategy to keep federal dollars flowing into the company’s coffers, despite a Presidential Executive Order that bars the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) from continuing to do business with the firm and its competitors when existing contracts expire.
When that order was signed by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D) on January 26, 2021, critics, including PLN’s publisher, the Human Rights Defense Center, noted a huge loophole it left open by not extending its ban to the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the massive agency that includes U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which—because it owns few facilities of its own—housed the 20,866 immigrant detainees it held on January 16, 2022, in a sprawling network of some 200 contracted immigration detention facilities, including privately run facilities. [See: PLN, Mar. 2021, p.16.]
The new filing by GEO Group includes a “company overview” from November 29, 2021, in which the firm said it expects to report 2021 revenues of $2.3 billion despite losing $125 million in contracts canceled after Biden’s order by the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), both of which are part of DOJ.
As GEO Group told the SEC, “Border Inflow Increase”—more arriving immigrants, primarily from troubled Central American countries—present “a Tailwind for GEO Facilities,” meaning ICE will fill more prison beds than USMS and BOP vacated.
In September 2021, for example, after BOP canceled its contract at GEO Group’s Moshannon Valley Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania, the company inked a deal with ICE to turn it into an immigration detention facility.
“We’re literally taking an order that says these aren’t safe for federal criminal detainees, and then saying it’s OK if it’s immigrants who are detained in these same facilities,” noted Jennifer Ibañez Whitlock, policy counsel at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
GEO Group’s electronic monitoring subsidiary, BI Inc., has also signed a contract to conduct a pilot program to electronically monitor several hundred immigrants that ICE will place on 12-hour-daily house-arrest in lieu of incarceration in a detention center. ICE currently has some 164,000 immigrants under some form of monitoring instead of in detention, and the Biden administration has reportedly asked Congress to fund expanding that total to 400,000. It was unclear what the pilot program, “home curfew,” will cost nor whether the amount is included in a $2.2 billion contract that DHS awarded to BI in March 2020.
What is clear is that this was not the stated purpose of Biden’s order, which was “to stop corporations from profiting off of incarceration that is less humane and less safe”—unless you think it is either humane or safe to force people who haven’t been convicted of a crime to sit in a cell or at home wearing a heavy electronic monitoring anklet with a potential to cause skin infections. But it’s also not the first time this administration has caved to private prison firms.
In September 2021, USMS gave the GEO Group a six-month extension on its contract to hold detainees at the Western Region Detention Facility in San Diego. Four months earlier, in May 2021, USMS granted a similar extension to Tennessee-based CoreCivic, a GEO Group competitor that owns the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown. In both cases, USMS is reportedly at work on intergovernmental agreements—with Kern County in California and Mahoning County, Ohio—which will keep its detainees in lockups privately operated by the two firms. [See: PLN, Feb. 2022, p.28.]
“Basically,” said Eunice Cho, a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, Biden is letting GEO and its ilk “play a shell game and shift to county agreements.”
On top of that, as reported elsewhere in this issue, is DOJ’s involvement in a recent federal court decision to strike down a California law banning private prisons in the state, including those run for the federal government. [See: PLN, Apr. 2022, p.50.]
Barring a dramatic turnaround in that case, the ruling also bodes ill for Washington Engrossed House Bill 1090, which that state’s legislature passed in March 2021, making it illegal to operate a private, for-profit detention center, prison or jail anywhere in the Evergreen State.
Meanwhile, in January 2022, GEO Group continued to implement its new strategy, signing a deal with rural Charlton County, Georgia, which expands the company’s ICE detention facility there to 3,018 beds—in a county with just 4,400 residents.
Recalling the President said in a 2021 visit to the state that “[t]here should be no private prisons, period, none, period,” an Atlanta organizer with Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Lovette Kargbo Thompson, called it just “another broken promise by the Biden administration.” The only surprise is that anyone is surprised given Biden’s half century of loyal duty to the police state and his enthusiasm for its caging and killing of people.
Sources: AP News, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, CNBC News, Grid News, San Francisco Chronicle
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