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The QueQue

The QueQue: Blood on the tracks, District 3 shuffle, Prisons and profits

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But private prison watchers continue to bristle that companies such as GEO, with a spotty track record at many of its private-run immigrant detention centers, including Pearsall, continue to make bank on lucrative federal contracts despite long-standing allegations of abuse. Reacting to the Pearsall extension, Bob Libal with Grassroots Leadership, which opposes for-profit prisons, said, “For me, this shows ICE is determined to rely on private prison corporations, even when those corporations have a very, very troubled record like the GEO Group does.”

Detention watch groups, immigrant rights advocates, and private prison watchers generally decry ICE’s heavy reliance on for-profit contractors for immigrant detention given the steady stream of complaints over abuse, lax oversight, and shoddy medical care at many privately run ICE detention centers. With the flow of immigrant detainees steadily rising along with increased enforcement efforts, private prisons have become integral to the immigrant detention system, and between 2005 and 2010 immigrants detained by ICE swelled from 240,00 to the record highs of nearly 400,000, according to advocacy group Detention Watch Network. Nearly half of all those detained now land in the hands of private prison corporations — GEO controls over 7,000 immigrant detention beds across the country.

The renewal of GEO’s Pearsall contract comes as the company readies to open another major ICE detention facility nearby: Karnes County’s so-called civil detention center for immigrant detainees. The 600-bed facility, set to open in the coming months, should generate $15 million in revenue for GEO each year once up and running, company officials have said. (The San Antonio Business Journal reported in November that Workforce Solutions Alamo hosted a Floresville job fair, helping GEO fill some 400 slots.)

Renewal of the Pearsall contract comes as some in Congress press to investigate claims of sexual abuse at ICE detention centers. This week Democratic congressmen Jared Polis of Colorado and Mike Quigley of Illinois penned a letter to the General Accountability Office calling for an investigation.

“The continued reports of sexual abuse against immigrants in ICE detention facilities are appalling,” Polis wrote in a statement. “Here we have people who are at their most vulnerable — many without access to any legal assistance — who are being preyed upon and assaulted.” Polis also worried that LGBT immigrants appear to be “special targets for abuse.”

GEO’s Pearsall facility has its own history of scandal. In 2007, two immigrant detainees at the facility sued after claiming staff repeatedly threw them into isolation instead of giving them medical treatment. One, a crippled woman with mental disabilities, claimed she was denied medication, forced into isolation, stripped naked, and ridiculed by GEO staff. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report on immigration detention referenced numerous allegations of sexual abuse of detainees by guards at Pearsall.

Last week, citing “abusive over-incarceration of our sisters and brothers,” the *United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits divested from the two largest private, for-profit prison entities: GEO and the Corrections Corporation of America. •


* Originally reported as United Methodist General Board of Church and Society

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