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The GEO Group, a Florida-based private prison operator, announced last week the inking of a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “for the continued management of the company-owned 1,904-bed South Texas Detention Center located in Pearsall, Texas.” According to the company’s press release the five year contract, effective through November 30, 2016, is worth $45.0 million “in annualized revenues at the full occupancy level of 1,800 beds.” Global Security News reports that the total contract is worth $236.2 million.
Private prison opponents have criticized the decision. Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership told the Texas Independent that because of Obama Administration policies, private prison companies continue to receive lucrative contracts despite their history of civil rights abuses.
“Because the administration seems to be determined to detain and deport record numbers of immigrants – the vast majority for only minor offenses, ICE continues to contract with troubled private prison corporations like GEO Group for facilities like Pearsall,” said Libal. “ICE should prioritize release and non-restrictive alternatives instead of mass detention in for-profit prisons.”
GEO has been the subject of criticism and involved in several lawsuits over abuse and other civil rights violations. Justice Strategies, in cooperation with Grassroots Leadership, has operated a blog that highlights the operations of GEO Group and other private prison corporations in Texas. The blog has cataloged allegations against GEO Group that have included accusations at the Pearsall facility of civil rights violations, inadequate health care, and labor disputes.
As the Texas Independent reported last year, GEO Group, along with Reeves County and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, were sued over an immigrant’s death in the Reeves County Detention Center after GEO employees failed to provide him with any medical attention to control his seizures. He had been left unattended in isolation. That was the ninth death at the Reeves County Detention Center in recent years. The GEO Group has also faced legal ramifications outside of Texas. The New Mexico Independent reported that the New Mexico Department of Corrections fined the corporation $1.1 million for understaffing one of its prisons.
GEO Group and other private prison organizations have reaped the benefits of stricter state immigration laws and Obama Administration immigration policies. An investigation by National Public Radio found that in coordination with the American Legislative Exchange Council, private prison companies lobbied for state laws that fill their beds with detained undocumented immigrants. The numbers have also increased with the fact that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported 400,000 deportations in fiscal year 2011 is the highest total in the agency’s eight years.