In August 2018, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reported that communities and human rights groups had organized a national day of protest against the for-profit prison company GEO Group after it threatened to sue the human rights group Dream Defenders for planning a national day of action to protest the private prison company. As Democracy Now! reported, GEO Group is Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s single biggest contractor, receiving hundreds of millions of dollars to run private immigrant prisons. In an interview, Rachel Gilmer, the co-director of Dream Defenders explained, “We’ve organized a national day of action where we’re targeting GEO prisons, we’re targeting GEO detention facilities, and we’re targeting elected officials’ offices who are actually making money from the very people who profit off of these systems, and then going on and making policies that lead to building more prisons, that lead to tough-on-immigration crimes.”
GEO Group is not the only private prison company whose practices are coming to light. A lawsuit filed in April 2018 accused CoreCivic—the largest private prison company in the U.S.—of mistreating inmates and forcing them to work for poverty wages, as reported by Betsy Woodruff for the Daily Beast. (Note: CoreCivic was formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America.) The lawsuit pits Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez Galicia, and Shoahib Ahmed against CoreCivic, which the suit accuses of having violated federal anti-human trafficking laws. Inmates in state prisons are allowed employment at minimum wage in accordance to the Prison Industry Enhancement Certificate Program (PIECP); however, inmates at facilities run by CoreCivic are being forced to “clean their own jail for a dollar a day or less.”
Furthermore, according to the lawsuit, Woodruff wrote, “detainees are directed to use their wages to buy toilet paper and other hygiene products from the detention center commissary.” The suit alleges that when one of the plaintiffs, Barrientos, ran out of toilet paper, his request for another roll was denied, and a CoreCivic officer told him to “use his fingers to clean himself.”
There are small victories in the resistance to the prison industry. Back in February 2018, CoreCivic shelved a proposal to build a detention facility for undocumented migrants after community members in Indiana protested those plans. CoreCivic filed to build a 1400-bed facility in Elkhart County, Indiana. Protests in Elkhart shut down that proposal. According to Erin Gifford, writing for CorpWatch, the company is “trying to cash in on President Donald Trump’s campaign promises to detain and deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants whom he claimed have criminal records.”
As corporate profiteering continues, independent media continue to follow the money. As reported by William Boardman for Axis of Logic in September 2018, the Vermont Department of Corrections has “reportedly agreed to a contract to send Vermont prisoners to Tallahatchie County, Mississippi, to be housed in a 2,672-bed facility run by CoreCivic.” Boardman noted that CoreCivic reported profits totaling $42 million on $449 million in revenues for the second quarter of 2018.
Corporate media coverage tends not to address treatment of prisoners or the lawsuits. For example, in covering the August protests, Fox News quoted an official statement by CoreCivic which stated that “activists are distorting the company’s role in immigration detention” and that protesters had been misled by “wrong and politically motivated” information from special interest groups.
“Activists Nationwide Aim to Disrupt GEO Group Today for Profiting Off Jailing & Separating Families,” Democracy Now!, August 7, 2018, www.democracynow.org/2018/8/7/activists_nationwide_aim_to_disrupt_geo.
Brad Reed. “Horrifying Lawsuit Claims Inmates at a Private Prison Were Forced to Work for Toilet Paper,” AlterNet, April 17, 2018, www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/horrifying-lawsuit-claims-inmates-private-prison-were-forced-work-toilet-paper.
Erin Gifford, “Protests Force CoreCivic to Cancel Plan to Build Indiana Immigration Prison,” CorpWatch, February 6, 2018, https://corpwatch.org/article/protests-force-corecivic-cancel-plan-build-indiana-immigration-prison.
Betsy Woodruff, “Private Prison Company Made Detainees Work for Toilet Paper, Lawsuit Alleges,” Daily Beast, April 17, 2018, www.thedailybeast.com/private-prison-company-made-detainees-work-for-toilet-paper-lawsuit-alleges?ref=scroll.
William Boardman, “Vermont Puts Prisoners Out to Bid to Slave Labor Corporations,” Axis of Logic, September 17, 2018, http://axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/Article_81232.shtml.
Student Researcher: Kathleen Pittorf (Syracuse University)
Faculty Evaluator: Jeff Simmons (Syracuse University)