Local activists last week protested Boca Raton-based GEO Group for abuses in the highly profitable private prisons it runs. Meanwhile, the company is under scrutiny by the Department of Justice for wasting at least $3 million while operating a troubled rural Texas prison that has seen riots and death in the past few years. An audit says GEO Group has understaffed the facility and mistreated inmates, all of whom are immigrants.
The DOJ’s Office of Inspector General audited the private prison behemoth’s Reeves County Detention Center outside of Pecos, Texas and recently released the findings. The contract under review is worth $493 million over ten years — the second-largest private contract awarded by the Bureau of Prisons. The contract was actually awarded to the governmental body of Reeves County, which then hired GEO Group to run the prison and Correct Care Solutions, based in Tennessee, to handle health-care services.
“We identified almost $3 million that we either questioned as unallowable or unsupported, or believe should be put to better use,” the IOG says in its report.
Of that $3 million, $1.95 million was spent on fringe benefits that GEO employees were not supposed to receive, which ranged from payroll bonuses to miscalculated workers’ compensation. There were also underpayments to 12 employees.
Other issues included an unacceptable number of deficiencies and notices of concern; unresponsiveness to Bureau of Prisons inquiries; struggles with staffing issues in health services and correctional services; and inaccurate routine paperwork, including erroneous disciplinary-hearing records and monthly invoices.
But the problems at the Reeves County Detention Center are far from merely clerical. The DOJ report details the plight of a group of inmates who were punished by prison authorities for protesting for better conditions, including additional movement in the recreation yard, “full respect from the officers,” better food, reduced commissary prices, and better pay for the jobs inmates do within the facilities.
The warden responded by removing 364 inmates whom he suspected might be instigators of the protest and threw them in solitary confinement. His excuse was that the leaders were using Mexican drug cartel connections to influence others to join the protest.
According to the report, the warden told the DOJ that inmates had to “prove they aren’t one of the leaders” to get out of solitary housing.
That wasn’t the first time inmates protested for better conditions at the Reeves prison. In 2009, a riot broke out there. Dubbed the “Pecos Insurrection” by the Texas Observer, the uprising was an effort by inmates — who took over the prison, took hostages, and demanded a meeting with the Mexican consulate, the FBI, and the warden — to improve overall conditions in the facility. Their grievances included complaints about the food, health care, overcrowding, and, ironically, considering the response from prison authorities four years later, the use of solitary confinement.
The riot ended after 24 hours and $1 million in damage, according to reports. The story grabbed the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a lawsuit against GEO Group on behalf of the inmates. A major point of the lawsuit was the case of Jesus Galindo, a 32-year-old Mexican who had lived in the U.S. since age 13. In 2007, Galindo was caught crossing the border and sentenced to 30 months in GEO Group’s Reeves County facility. Galindo, who was epileptic, didn’t get proper attention to his medical condition and eventually died while in a special housing unit, according to the ACLU lawsuit.
The DOJ won’t confirm or deny whether the audit is a result of the ongoing problems in GEO Group’s Reeves County facility.
Eighteen recommendations were included in the DOJ report, mostly suggesting better management and record-keeping of money as well as a less-punitive system for dealing with inmate complaints. It’s not clear what repercussions [changes?], if any, will occur. But the DOJ says on its website that evaluating private prison contracts is at the top of its list of ongoing work.
Protesters, including the Dream Defenders, planned to converge in Boca Raton on April 29 during GEO Group’s annual shareholders meeting at the Boca Raton Country Club. The protesters are calling the event “Expose $laveholders.” It takes place days after a recent report by Texas-based Grassroots Leadership accused GEO Group and fellow private prison corporation Corrections Corporation of America of making record profits off immigrant detention centers.
GEO Group runs 106 corrections facilities, according to its website. It has seen a more than 244 percent increase in revenue since 2009, according to the Grassroots Leadership report.