A whole host of civil-rights advocates believe the private, for-profit prison industry should not exist. But former Florida State Senate President Joe Negron appears to, ahem, lean in the opposite direction: Politico Florida reported yesterday that the outgoing Negron will take a cushy gig as the chief lawyer for GEO Group, the Boca Raton-based, for-profit prison company that is also the single largest contractor for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The previous person to hold that job reportedly made more than $1 million per year in total compensation.
Given that Negron has taken wads of campaign donations from GEO over the years while backing bills that benefited the company, multiple civil-rights and immigrant-rights organizations who spoke to New Times yesterday are now lambasting the move as an obvious act of revolving-door corruption.
"During his tenure as Senate president, Joe Negron handed over taxpayer dollars to his future employer while GEO Group was funding his and his wife’s campaigns with money," the Florida-based civil-rights organization Dream Defenders told New Times. "This is corrupt. We are not surprised. GEO is an immoral corporation that profits from the failed War on Drugs, the caging of poor people and immigrants, and the separation of families in our communities and at the border."
Dream Defenders has launched an activist campaign labeling GEO a #DreamKiller for making a profit from a justice system that disproportionately jails poor, black, and brown people. Earlier this year, GEO's legal team — the very same group of lawyers that Negron will now lead — threatened to sue Dream Defenders for "libel" over the campaign. Dream Defenders did not back down, and the American Civil Liberties Union said GEO's legal threats did not pass "the laugh test."
"GEO threatened to sue us this year in part for our work calling out the vast and wholly inappropriate influence the for-profit prison company has over the politicians in this state," Dream Defenders told New Times yesterday. "Between the move to hire Negron and a Ron DeSantis governorship, GEO’s grip on this state is tightening and all people morally opposed to their modus operandi should be vigilant."
The company's business model — which, according to the company's own Securities and Exchange Commission filings, relies on constantly building and filling new jail beds — is seen as so toxic in justice-reform circles that every single Democratic candidate for Florida governor promised not to take the company's campaign money this year. The Florida Democratic Party even passed a resolution banning private-prison donations to the state party.
Justice-reform advocates yesterday also chimed in online to blast Negron's decision:
The outgoing president of Florida's State Senate fought for years to protect private prisons.— Shaun King (@shaunking) December 4, 2018
Right after leaving office, the largest private prison company in the state just hired him as their general counsel.
And he's on the DeSantis transition team.https://t.co/P9HIqgMf7n
Politico reported yesterday that, since 2013, Negron has reportedly received more than $50,000 in campaign money from GEO Group. His wife, Rebecca, who also tried to run for Congress in 2016, received $100,000 from the corporation. GEO also reportedly sent $250,000 to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which supported Negron's runs for state Senate.
At the same time, Negron's Legislature approved bills that enriched the company. The last state budget that Negron approved, for example, reportedly included a $4 million pay raise for prison contractors, including GEO.
Critics have often whacked GEO (formerly known as Wackenhut) for using the company's massive wealth to influence U.S. politics. While GEO maintains that its political donations are allowed by law, the company was accused of illegally donating money to both the Donald Trump presidential campaign and Rick Scott senatorial campaign. Federal contractors such as GEO are barred from donating to federal races. The company has long been a major donor to state and federal politicians around the nation.
At the same time, GEO has been repeatedly criticized for alleged abuses inside its prisons and immigrant detention houses. Detainees at some GEO facilities, including sites in Florida, have alleged they were abused, neglected, and mistreated. One facility, the Broward Transitional Center, even saw a hunger strike during the Barack Obama years. Multiple detainees died at a Southern California GEO facility in 2017, and the ACLU has accused GEO guards of "torturing" Colorado inmates as well. Yet the company currently holds roughly a half-billion dollars in contracts with ICE.
As a result, immigrant-rights supporters in Florida — some of whom protested outside of GEO headquarters in Boca Raton earlier this year — aren't happy about Negron's new job.
"Outgoing Florida Senate President Joe Negron made sure that for-profit prisons operated in the state with little opposition or regulation and allocated millions of dollars of funding from the State Legislature for GEO Group," Tomas Kennedy, political director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, messaged New Times yesterday. "For this, he has been awarded a high paying position within the company. This is how the revolving door of corruption works in politics."
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.