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What MLive doesn’t tell us about the GEO Group and their new contract to run a Private Prison in Baldwin, Michigan

May 4, 2019

On Thursday, it was announced that the private prison corporation, known as the GEO Group, will begin a 10-year contract to run the former North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan.

The headline from MLive reads, Private prison to reopen to house ‘non-U.S. citizen criminals’, which is a line taken directly from the GEO Group Press Release.  It’s unfortunate that MLive chose to use the language from GEO Group about who would be incarcerated at the North Lake Correctional Facility, since it frames undocumented immigrants as criminals. To be fair, the GEO Group Press Release also used the term “aliens.”

The MLive article cites a GEO Group spokesperson and a Lake County Commissioner, Howard Lodholtz, who is quoted as saying about the GEO Group contract, “This is just going to be a super thing.”

The only other person cited in the article was a spokesperson with the Michigan Department of Corrections, basically saying that the State of Michigan has no jurisdiction over the private prison industry.

The MLive article ends by using more content from the GEO Group Press Release, and providing no counter perspective on what this new contract between and the GEO Group will mean moving forward.

So, a private prison corporation will now be able to provide “housing” for approximately 1,800 people through a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The facility that will now be run by the GEO Group will not be an ICE detention facility, rather a prison for immigrants who have been charged in criminal cases in federal court.

I spoke with immigration attorney Richard Kessler, who told me, “most of the immigrants who will be held in the GEO Group prison will be people who are convicted on non-violent crimes, such as re-entry.” This means that those who have re-entered the US a second time without documentation are being charged with federal crimes. Kessler said,

My biggest concern is that this will further the criminalization of immigration. These are essentially status crimes, because people are here to be with family and most of the people who will end up in this detention facility are those coming from the south and the southwest, making it extremely difficult for families to visit those being held in Baldwin.”

What the MLive article didn’t tell about the GEO Group coming to Baldwin, MI

The State Senator from the 35th District, Curt VanderWall, also released a statement on the GEO Group announcement that they would be running a private prison in Baldwin, saying: 

To hear that the former Michigan Youth Correctional Facility is going to be reactivated is wonderful news for the community. This contract will create up to 320 permanent jobs in the village of Baldwin — a remarkable number for a town with a population under 1,500. I look forward to Geo Group establishing the prison and becoming a valuable member of the community.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the GEO Group has contributed nearly $4 million to political candidates since 2004 and spent just over $9 million on lobbying during the same amount of time. However, the money the company has spent on lobbying has increased significantly since 2017, when the Trump administration took power, as can be seen in the graph below. 

In June of 2018, Human Rights Watch released a report, Code Red: The Fatal Consequences of Dangerously Substandard Medical Care in Immigration Detention, which documents the poor medical treatment for inmates in private detention facilities (GEO Group and other corporations) in the US and an increase in inmate deaths.

From an In These Times article on who is profiting from the increased ICE activity in the US: 

According to data from the Urban Justice Center’s Corrections Accountability Project, 72 percent of all migrants under ICE’s control sleep in privatized detention beds, mostly managed by private prison behemoths Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). In 2017, Geo Group and CoreCivic together earned $985 million from ICE contracts, more than a third of what ICE spends each year on custody operations. The corporations get paid whether the beds are full or not, arguably providing government an incentive to seek out prisoners so as not to “waste money.”

Data and analysis from the American Friends Service Committee provides us with a much larger picture of the various ways that GEO Group is profiting from the Prison Industrial Complex: 

The GEO Group (GEO) is the second largest private prison corporation in the United States, and the largest provider of “community corrections” and electronic monitoring services in the world. As of July 2018, GEO manages or owns 96,000 beds within 141 prisons and detention facilities in the United States, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In 2017, GEO reported $2.26 billion in revenue, an increase from $2.18 billion in 2016. The majority of GEO’s revenue is derived from federal contracts with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Marshals and continues to increase. In 2014, federal contracts accounted for 42 percent of total revenue, and, in 2017, it accounted for 47.3 percent. The increase has come primarily from ICE, which accounts for 23.9 percent of total revenue in 2017, an increase from 18 percent in 2015.

The AFSC information on the GEO Group and their ankle monitoring or e-incarceration capacity is instructive and reflects the insidiousness of the company’s desire to make a profit:

In 2011, GEO Group purchased BI Incorporated for $415 million dollars. With this acquisition, GEO Group “ensured that whether ICE is expanding detention or expanding alternative forms of detention, they’re getting paid”. While the “Alternatives to Detention Program” is designed to focus on people with serious criminal histories or pose a threat to public safety, 89 percent of individuals in ISAP are not considered “dangerous or violent” by ICE’s own criteria. In 2015, immigration attorneys from Texas filed a formal complaint to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, documenting how asylum seekers were deliberately misled and/or coerced into agreeing to wear ankle bracelets in order to be released from detention. The complaints included charges that personnel threatened to withhold medical care for their children if they chose to seek bond hearings instead of agreeing to wear the ankle monitors. 

This is just a sampling of the information on the GEO Group, but it should be enough to concern anyone about the announcement that the GEO Group will now be operating a private prison in Baldwin through a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

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