Interestingly, this same company runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which is the scene of an expanding hunger strike.
Inmates joining the law suit are paid $1 per day for voluntary work. They want improved quality of food, improved medical care and higher paying jobs. The detention center is run by a private company, GEO Group, which operates under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The group Latino Advocacy said more than 750 people at the Tacoma facility were refusing meals as of Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, detainees at an Aurora, Colorado, detention center run by GEO Group have filed a class-action lawsuit. It claims the detention center violates federal anti-slavery laws.
Attorney Nina Disalvo is an attorney represents the detainees in Colorado. She said it’s illegal to pay them $1 a day.
“It’s not the market wage that GEO would have to pay if it were absorbing the real cost of running an immigrant detention center,” Disalvo said. “If GEO actually had to hire janitorial staff to clean its facility, it would have to pay that staff a market wage. And it’s not paying the detainees a market wage for this work.”
Disalvo said some of her clients were forced to do janitorial work and clean large areas within the facility without pay. “If they did not do so, they were threatened with or placed in solitary confinement,” Disalvo said. “Our clients allege that forcing people to work under threat of solitary confinement constitutes forced labor under the federal forced labor laws.”
GEO Group has denied the lawsuit’s allegations. A spokesperson for Immigration and Customs enforcement says the agency does not comment on pending litigation. Virginia Kice, ICE spokeswoman, confirmed that detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma earn $1 per day for voluntary work. She said about 25 percent of detainees participate in the program, and that no detainees perform unpaid work at the facility.
The Colorado lawsuit could have implications for the Northwest Detention Center. Northwestern University political science professor Jacqueline Stevens said that if the plaintiffs prevail, GEO Group will need to pay out up to hundreds of millions of dollars in back wages and penalties.
“This could mean the end of government contracts with the private prison industry for housing people held under immigration laws, and the return to more sensible policies,” Stevens said.
I’m no fan of private prisons.
For those who don’t know, a private prison or for-profit prison is a place in which individuals are physically confined or incarcerated by a third party that is contracted by a government agency. Private prison companies typically enter into contractual agreements with governments that commit prisoners and then pay a per diem or monthly rate, either for each prisoner in the facility, or for each place available, whether occupied or not. Such contracts may be for the operation only of a facility, or for design, construction and operation.
According to the ACLU, private prisons have been linked to numerous cases of violence and atrocious conditions. Also, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, for-profit companies were responsible for approximately 7 percent of state prisoners and 18 percent of federal prisoners in 2015 (the most recent numbers currently available).
While supporters of private prisons tout the idea that governments can save money through privatization, the evidence is mixed at best—in fact, private prisons may in some instances cost more than governmental ones.
Finally, it appears that immigrants are the ones filling these detention centers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported that in 2016, private prisons held nearly three-quarters of federal immigration detainees. In light of today’s anti-immigrant presidential administration, it’s no coincidence that private stocks for U.S. prisons have increased 100% since Trump’s election.
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