The GEO Group, which operates 42 prisons and detention facilities in the United States, has entered into a settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor. The settlement requires GEO to instate measures that better protect employees from routine workplace violence in each of its facilities ("Florida-Based Employer Must Safeguard Workers," 3/26/14).
In June 2012, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited GEO for workplace hazards at a facility in Meridian, Miss. These violations include the company's failure to fix faulty cell door locks; to provide training and equipment to protect employees in violent situations; and failure to provide adequate staffing.
The three-year agreement with the U.S. Department of Labor, the citation has been upgraded to a serious violation, which will require GEO to pay a $13,600 fine. GEO will also be required to hire a third-party consultant who will manage a violence prevention program and conduct safety audits at each of the company's 42 facilities. GEO is also required to employ a corporate-level violence coordinator at each facility.
Teresa Harrison, acting regional administrator for OSHA in Atlanta, thinks this new measure will be effective:
“This corporate-wide settlement agreement will have a far-reaching effect and impact on correctional officers and other staff nationwide...This agreement is the first of its kind in the corrections industry that addresses the hazards associated with workplace violence.”
A GEO Group employee pleaded not guilty to charges that he initiated sexual contact with a man detained at an immigration detention center ("Jail Employee charged with Detainee Sex," 3/27/14) south of San Antonio operated by GEO Group. GEO is the same private prison corporation subject to a hunger strike at two detention facilities in Texas and Washington State.
Juan Aguilar, formerly employed at the South Texas Detention Complex in Pearsall, near San Antonio, worked in the kitchen. The incident allegedly occured on February 17, when Aguilar is said to have lowered the detained man's pants and began performing oral sex on him in the facility's kitchen. Unfortunately, this incident is not the first alleged sexual assault to take place at Pearsall.
Aguilar was indicted on March 19 and was charged with the sexual abuse of a ward. The Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General is overseeing the investigation. Aguilar is no longer employed at the facility.
On March 19, a Travis County, Texas court has declared the the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) a governmental body, according to Prison Legal News ("Texas Court holds CCA is a governmental body in PLN public records suit 2014"). According to the Texas Public Information Act, CCA, as a governmental body, is required to disclose information to the public.
This ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed by Prison Legal News (PLN), a monthly publication housed within the Human Rights Defense Center that focuses on criminal justice issues. PLN filed a lawsuit against CCA in May 2013 after the for-profit prison corporation refused to disclose information, such as audits and other investigations regarding the troubled Dawson State Jail, which Grassroots Leadership helped close that same year. The records in question would have been public had Dawson not been operated by a private company. CCA operated nine facilities in Texas, four of which are used to incarcerate state prisoners.
PLN managing director Alex Friedmann commented on CCA's secrecy:
This is one of the many failings of private prisons... By contracting with private companies, corrections officials interfere with the public’s right to know what is happening in prisons and jails, even though the contracts are funded with taxpayer money. This lack of transparency contributes to abuses and misconduct by for-profit companies like CCA, which prefer secrecy over public accountability.
PLN argued that CCA can be defined as a "governmental body" because the company performs duties that are also performed by the government. CCA rebutted, claiming that not all funds from Texas are allocated for Texas facilities, but are instead used to "to support CCA’s corporate allocations throughout the United States." PLN's has won a lawsuit against CCA in Tennessee and another is pending in Vermont.
Brian McGiverin of the Texas Civil Rights Project, who represented PLN along with Cindy Saiter Connolly, calls the ruling against CCA a "victory":
The conditions of Texas prisons have been the focus of intense public scrutiny for nearly 40 years... Today’s ruling is a victory for transparency and responsible government. Texans have a right to know what their government is doing, even when a private company is hired to do it.
Grassroots Leadership, in partnership with Huston-Tillotson University and Pi Gamma Mu, will host a community conversation with Nicole D. Porter and Christopher Petrella on Race, Mass Incarceration, and Private Prisons. We are eager to welcome Nicole and Christopher to Austin, to learn from their research, and to dialogue together about how we organize to address these issues locally. See speakers' bios below.
Light refreshments will be available. Huston-Tillotson University will host the event in the Dickey-Lawless Auditorium from 6:30 pm until 8:00 pm. For more information please contact Grassroots Leadership at 512-499-8111.
Nicole Porter co-chairs Grassroots Leadership’s board and is the Director of Advocacy for the Sentencing Project in Washington, DC, Nicole is the former director of the Texas ACLU's Prison & Jail Accountability Project (PJAP). PJAP's mission was to monitor the conditions of confinement in Texas jails and prisons. Nicole’s policy focus is on mass incarceration and state sentencing policies she and recently published a paper on state prison closures. Her research was instrumental in supporting organizing and advocacy in Texas during the 2013 legislative session to close two privately operated prisons. Porter graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Master's Degree in Public Affairs from the LBJ School. Her master’s thesis addressed exploring self employment as an economic strategy among formerly incarcerated African Americans. Porter received her BA in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD. She also studied African Politics at the University of Ghana, West Africa.
Christopher Petrella is a doctoral candidate in African American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley currently writing a book-length manuscript entitled Courts, Contracts, and Corporate Corrections: The Paradox of the Private Prison State. He is eager to share the findings of his most recent research on racial disparities in private prisons, which has earned significant press coverage, including on Tavis Smiley’s radio broadcast, NPR, and Mother Jones. He's also co-directing a national campaign aimed at bringing transparency and accountability to the for-profit, private corrections industry. Christopher has collaborated with organizations including the ACLU's National Prison Project, Harvard Law School's Institute for Race & Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Prison Legal News. He holds degrees from Bates College and Harvard University.