April 29, 2015
Company denies hunger strike at Texas family detention facility
Boca Raton, FL – Today, over 100 people from across the country joined a protest outside the GEO Group’s annual shareholder meeting at the Boca Resort and Club. GEO, a private company, bills itself as the “largest provider of correctional services in the world.” Groups participating in the protest included the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) from Lake Worth, Florida and the Austin, Texas-based Grassroots Leadership.
HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann, an activist shareholder who owns a small number of shares of GEO Group stock, attended the meeting. When he asked about recent reports of hunger strikes by immigrant women held at the GEO Group-operated Karnes County Family Detention Center in Texas, he was informed by a GEO executive that there was no hunger strike; rather, he said it was a “boycott of dining facilities” at the detention facility.
GEO Group founder and CEO George C. Zoley further remarked that the women detained at Karnes awaiting asylum hearings “have a higher standard of living” than they had elsewhere, implying that they should be grateful for being incarcerated – along with their children – at the company’s for-profit detention center.
Grassroots Leadership has been organizing support for the immigrant families held at Karnes, as well as families incarcerated at another detention facility in Dilly, Texas operated by GEO Group competitor Corrections Corporation of America.
“We know that GEO Group and other private prison companies thrive when they are able to obscure the truth about their business practices and what happens inside of their facilities,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles, Grassroots Leadership’s Director of Criminal Justice Programs. “We are here in solidarity with local South Florida communities to shine a light on the ugly reality of privatized incarceration and detention, and this particular company’s attitudes toward those they keep behind their bars. Our message to GEO's shareholders is that no one should profit from incarceration.”
Also in attendance at the GEO Group protest were members of Florida Immigrant Coalition, students from Dream Defenders groups on campuses across Florida, Enlace International, and members from SEIU-Florida and the Palm Beach Environmental Coalition.
The protest included a street theatre performance by Dream Defenders members titled “GEO-o-poly,” based on the Monopoly board game, that depicted the connections between slavery and for-profit incarceration. Photos of the protest are posted here.
According to Friedmann, during the GEO Group shareholder meeting the company lauded its performance over the past year, including “no major disturbances or operational problems” at its correctional and detention facilities. Further, GEO stated one of the company’s goals for 2015 was “organic growth” with new and existing clients. GEO currently receives 42% of its revenue from contracts with federal agencies, including the Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Although GEO executives repeatedly cited efforts to increase rehabilitative programming in the company’s facilities, and an interest in becoming a “leader in offender rehabilitation,” in December 2014 GEO Group successfully objected to a shareholder resolution, submitted by HRDC associate director Alex Friedmann, that would have required the company to spend just 5% of its net income on programs and services designed to reduce recidivism rates for offenders in the company’s correctional facilities.
“At Grassroots Leadership, we believe no one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings,” said Kymberlie Quong Charles. “We live in the most incarcerated society in the history of the world. Every day we confront a prison industry that preys on pain because our addiction to locking people up dehumanizes all of us.”
The Human Rights Defense Center, founded in 1990, is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting human rights in U.S. detention facilities. HRDC publishes Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly magazine that includes reports, reviews and analysis of court rulings and news related to prisoners’ rights and criminal justice issues. PLN has around 9,000 subscribers nationwide and operates a website (www.prisonlegalnews.org) that includes a comprehensive database of prison and jail-related articles, news reports, court rulings, verdicts, settlements and related documents.
Grassroots Leadership (www.grassrootsleadership.org) fights to end for-profit incarceration and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education. Grassroots Leadership builds bridges between communities to increase the capacity of local leaders and coalitions, mobilize opposition to privatization, and transform the immigration and justice systems.
Kymberlie Quong Charles, Grassroots Leadership
Alex Friedmann, Associate Director, Human Rights Defense Center