AOC calls out private prison company opening Michigan immigration facility

    U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (C) during a news conference in front of the U.S. Capitol February 7, 2019 in Washington, DC. | Alex Wong, Getty Images

    U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) took to Twitter Wednesday to slam a private prison company that plans to reopen a facility in Michigan that will house undocumented immigrants on criminal charges.

    The freshman New York Democrat, most famous for her outspoken support for democratic socialism and the Green New Deal, called out the GEO Group in a tweet for complaining to the federal government that its business model is at risk.

    The Florida-based GEO Group complained to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in its most recent quarterly report that increased public scrutiny and criticism is a risk to the profitability of the private prison and detention industry, despite the fact that GEO’s quarterly net income increased by $5.6 million — $40.6 million this quarter — from last spring.

    The company announced plans last week to reopen the 1,800-bed North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin after winning a $37 million annual Federal Bureau of Prisons contract to house “non-U.S. citizen criminal aliens,” as the Michigan Advance reported.

    GEO headquarters in Florida | Wikimedia Commons

    GEO Group wrote in its quarterly report that public opposition to private prisons and immigrant detention facilities “could result in our inability to obtain new contracts or the loss of existing contracts” and impact the company’s ability to obtain debt financing or other “commercial arrangements.”

    As an example, the company cited recent announcements from JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo that both companies “will not be renewing existing agreements or entering into new agreements with companies” that contract with the federal government to operate private prisons or immigrant detention facilities.

    Other banks could endanger company profits by following suit, GEO Group noted.

    “Increased public resistance to the use of public-private partnerships for correctional, detention and community-based facilities in any of the markets in which we operate, as a result of these or other factors, could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations,” they said in the report.

    The company touts “high-quality services in safe, secure and humane residential environments,” but GEO Group itself has a checkered past in Michigan, as well as other states.

    Wikimedia Commons

    North Lake Correctional Facility opened as a youth prison in 1999 under Republican former Gov. John Engler. It closed under former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s Democratic administration as state audits found numerous problems associated with the cost of running the facility that left it short-staffed as it dealt with frequent assaults and other issues.

    An unannounced 2018 visit from Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General to one Florida facility found nooses made from bedsheets in 15 of its 20 cells, NPR reported. Despite a detainee’s suicide a year before that, guards still hadn’t noticed the nooses’ presence. The federal report also showed that the company unnecessarily handcuffed detainees and placed them in solitary confinement.

    A February report from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra found similar issues at facilities in California where civil detainees were sometimes confined to cells for 22 hours a day.

    Michael Gerstein
    Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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