Obama Administration should rescind award for family case management from private prisons

September 18, 2015

ICE continues to reward private prisons for bad behavior in the face of judge’s ruling, federal civil rights recommendations, new legislation and public outcry

(AUSTIN, Texas) — In a disappointing move, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) today awarded a private prison company a grant to establish a new caseworker management initiative for mothers and children released from family detention.

ICE announced Thursday that it signed an $11 million-a-year contract with GEO Care LLC to operate the program in Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Chicago and the Baltimore-Washington area for families released from detention or at the border.

GEO Care is a division of GEO Group, the for-profit private prison company that owns and operates the notorious Karnes family detention camp in South Texas. A social worker who worked at the center quit and blew the whistle on conditions inside, testifying before Congress that what she saw inside was “tantamount to torture."

“ICE is a seemingly captured agency that goes back to private prisons again and again,” said Cristina Parker, immigration programs director at Grassroots Leadership. “This contract should have gone to community-based organizations that have an understanding of the needs of refugees. It’s bad enough that the GEO Group will profit from every mother and child while they are incarcerated at the Karnes center, now they will rake in millions more when they are released.”

GEO Group’s frightening record with vulnerable populations doesn’t end there. Our report released last year exposed a pattern of abuse and neglect in facilities operated by the private prison companies currently raking in millions on family detention.

“This is yet another example of private prison companies widening their net as they shuffle children and their moms through a never-ending profit pipeline” said Cate Graziani, Mental Health Campaigns Coordinator at Grassroots Leadership. “Private prison corporations like GEO have a long and troubling record when it comes to providing treatment and rehabilitation services.”  

This development is especially stunning for its timing. This week, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights recommended that ICE release families from the detention camps, specifically citing the conditions created by the private prison companies that operate them as a reason. This week also saw proposed legislation from Sen. Bernie Sanders to ban private prisons at the federal state and local levels. Sanders’ bill specifically calls out the family detention camps and if passed, would see them closed. Furthermore, the deadline to comply with a federal judge's order to release families is fast approaching.

“Though Sen. Sanders’ bill would be a major win in the fight against for-profit prisons, we don’t need to wait for legislation. The Obama Administration can and should immediately close the family detention camps and rescind the GEO Care contract in favor of a community-based alternative,” Parker said.

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Grassroots Leadership is an Austin, Texas-based national organization that works to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention through direct action, organizing, research, and public education.


Cristina Parker, cparker@grassrootsleadership.org, 512-499-8111