GEO Group, the country’s second-largest private prison company, is one of several private prisons facing lawsuits over potential human rights violations. According to The Daily Beast, one of the company’s top executives went to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to ask the agency, and therefore taxpayers, to cover its legal fees.
Several people formerly detained in GEO’s private immigration detention centers told the outlet that “the company forces detainees to do manual labor for $1 a day (sometimes less) and has punished detainees who refuse with solitary confinement.” The roughly six lawsuits—some of which also challenge work programs at prison company CoreCivic—say that these organizations are breaking human trafficking laws.
From The Daily Beast:
The communications—which Northwestern University Political Science Professor Jacqueline Stevens obtained by FOIA and shared with The Daily Beast—paint a picture of deep distress within the company regarding its legal bills.
The piece goes on to outline deeper ties between the prison giant and ICE:
GEO’s senior vice president of business development sent the first letter on February 14, 2018. The exec’s name is redacted, but an archived page from the company’s website shows Dave Venturella held the post at the time (and still does). Before joining the private prison giant, Venturella was director of the arm of ICE responsible for arresting and detaining undocumented immigrants.
Venturella reportedly asked for financial help with the lawsuits. “GEO cannot bear the costs of this defense on its own,” he allegedly said. “The legal discovery costs could total several millions of dollars and potential damages could be in the tens of millions,” he said of lawsuits in Colorado, California and Washington.
In May 2018, GEO’s CEO George Zoley reportedly sent his own plea to ICE. “We are deeply alarmed at the rapidly increasing costs in defending these lawsuits without reimbursement from ICE, or assistance in their defense by the Department of Justice,” he wrote, according to The Daily Beast.
ICE reportedly denied the request and the office of the U.S. Solicitor General (SG)—the top appellate lawyer in the Department of Justice—“filed an amicus brief in federal court on April 1 of this year saying the dispute should be over the facts of the detainees’ treatment rather than whether the law against human trafficking applies to the companies.”
“The private prisons act as though decades of labor law violations entitle them to exploit people in perpetuity,” Professor Stevens told The Daily Beast. “It’s about time they start following the rule of law and it’s ridiculous that they expect taxpayer reimbursements for unlawful profits.”