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Driving Us Straight to Prison With Our Own Money

The GEO Group, Inc. is a publicly traded company based out of Florida. One of the largest operators of private prisons and immigration detention centers in the world, the group had total revenue of $406.8 million in the third quarter of 2011 alone.

GEO began as a subsidiary of Wackenhut, a corporation with a history of abuse, neglect and fraud going back decades. A woman named Janet Chandler was raped and killed by Wackenhut security guards in 1979, a crime the victim’s family claims Wackenhut tried to cover up. In 1994 a Wackenhut security guard with a history of abusing minors repeatedly raped a fifteen year old in one of their juvenile facilities.

Wackenhut was the subject of a congressional investigation in the 1990s after it came out that the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company hired them to set up a phony environmental group in order to investigate a critic. In 2001, a man was beaten to death by other inmates while Wackenhut guards watched. They made the news again a few years ago when a whistleblower filmed guards sleeping on the job at a nuclear facility.  And in 2010, Wackenhut settled with Miami-Dade County for $7.5 million after being caught charging the county for services and staffing never provided.

The name may have changed, but the stories remain the same. The GEO Group has been fined by the state of New Mexico for having inadequate staffing at its facilities. In 2008, an epileptic man in one of GEO’s immigration detention centers died after being put in solitary confinement for a month. Human Rights Watch found a pattern of sexual abuse at immigration detention centers, including those run by GEO.

Despite the company’s history of abuse,  “squalid” conditions discovered after an inmate suicide, and facilities so “unsanitary” that they had to be shut down; GEO continues to receive huge government contracts. The company throws a lot of money around to get them – lobbyists, campaign contributions, and well-paid jobs for former politicians and government employees.

According to CounterPunch.

The firm’s team of 63 lobbyists has been active in 16 states over the past decade. In the first quarter of this year alone (2011) GEO spent more than $100,000  on lobbying in Florida  as the legislature was considering a plan to privatize 29 state prisons…GEO complements its lobbying activities with political campaign contributions, which totaled just over $2.4 million between 2003 and 2010.

Former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Norman Carlson, has been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for sitting on the GEO board.  The New Mexico corrections secretary whose department “faced criticism in the past for failing to penalize GEO and CCA for understaffing their facilities” was later hired as a warden at one of the GEO facilities. And it It looks like GEO may also be the subject of an FBI pay to play investigation.

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