Broward News

Bad News: Private Prisons Aren't Going Away in Broward and Palm Beach

Last week, activists around the country celebrated the news that the U.S. Department of Justice would stop contracting with private prison companies.

This unfortunately doesn’t mean private prisons are going away altogether. The ruling won’t affect the three private prisons here in Broward and Palm Beach, since none of them are federal facilities.

Here’s what we’re stuck with:

Broward Transitional Center

This euphemistically named complex, run by the GEO group, holds as many as 700 undocumented immigrants at a time — many of whom do not have criminal records and are in the United States seeking political asylum because they face persecution and violence in their home countries. In 2012, two activists infiltrated the facility to get a sense of the conditions inside and left with a number of disturbing stories. A man was raped with a Sharpie while taking a shower. A woman who had to undergo emergency ovarian surgery was returned to her cell that same day and suffered from heavy bleeding. More recently, a man who suffered from a hernia the size of a baseball says he was only given Advil for three months.

Palm Beach Youth Academy (formerly the Palm Beach Juvenile Correction Center)

Last summer, the ACLU labeled this the worst juvenile detention center in all of Florida, which is really saying something. The reason? It has the highest reported rate of sexual abuse in the state, with reports coming from a shocking 32% of all inmates. Conditions had gotten so bad that the Department of Juvenile Justice asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent review. The state ultimately opted to sever its contract with Youth Services International, which had managed the facility for years, and had Sequel Youth & Family Services take over in April of this year. The jury is still out on whether the change in management has made a difference. 

South Bay Correctional Facility

The GEO Group again! Based on their name, you’d think they do something vague and semi-boring involving rocks, but they’re actually the second-largest for-profit prison operator in the country. You could say they’re the Pepsi to Corrections Corp. of America’s Coke. They also happen to be headquartered in Boca Raton.

While GEO doesn’t get name-checked quite as often as CCA, it’s no less questionable. The Center for Media and Democracy has pointed out that between 2008 and 2012, CEO George C. Zoley earned $22,315,704. Meanwhile, the company aggressively cut costs at state prisons like the South Bay Correctional Facility, leading to dangerous levels of understaffing and neglect. They’ve paid to settle hundreds of lawsuits from inmates who say their medical needs were ignored, they were sexually assaulted or beaten by fellow inmates or guards, or they were housed in inhumane conditions.

The company gave Marco Rubio close to $190,000 while he was speaker of the Florida House, which seems to have worked out well for them because they got a major contract with the state right around that time. They also tried to give FAU $6 million in exchange for naming the football stadium after them, which didn’t go quite so well. In what should have come as a shock to no one, FAU students responded by protesting GEO Group’s dubious human rights record until the company decided to take back the gift. 

Correction: This article formerly stated incorrectly that the Broward Juvenile Detention Center is run by a private company. It is, in fact, owned and managed by the State of Florida. Also, a previous version misstated the name of the Palm Beach Youth Academy. It was formerly known as the Palm Beach Juvenile Correction Center, but that was recently changed.. 
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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.