The GEO Group has signed $774 million worth of federal contracts so far this year. Last year, its livelihood was threatened by an Obama Justice Department order to phase out federal contracts with private lockups.
Leading for-profit prison corporations in the U.S. have been plagued by health and safety issues for years, with prisoner and staff complaints and wrongful-death lawsuits piling up. The companies have enjoyed a lucrative relationship with the federal government. Since 1997, they’ve been paid billions by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to house more than 34,000 federal inmates. It was a convenient arrangement for a nation with the world’s highest prison population, underpinned by a belief that private corporations could do the job cheaper and better, reports Philly.com. A year ago, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General released a troubling report that showed contract prisons had far higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and poorer access to medical care, than comparable federally run facilities. Officials of the GEO Group contend the report painted a grossly distorted portrait of its prisons. Its facilities are “equally safe, secure and humane as government-run facilities,” said GEO’s Pablo Paez.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates directed the Bureau of Prisons to phase out its use of private-run prisons altogether. This was a potentially fatal blow to the industry; the stock price of publicly traded GEO plummeted 40 percent that day. History intervened. Since the election of President Trump, GEO — which donated $170,000 to a Trump political action committee last year, and $250,000 to his inaugural bash — has seen its stock price nearly quadruple. One of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ first moves was to rescind Yates’ memo. So instead of being cut off, GEO is raking in the money. The company has signed $774 million worth of federal contracts so far this year, including a $110 million deal to build an immigration detention center in Texas. Critics argue that privately run prisons sometimes are understaffed and unsafe; three inmates have died at a GEO-run detention center in California since March.