2:28 p.m. Friday, May 1, 2015
BOCA RATON — A GEO Group executive Wednesday denied reports of a hunger strike at the GEO-operated Karnes County Family Detention Center in Texas.
Speaking at the private prison company’s annual shareholder meeting at the Boca Resort and Club, a GEO official said it wasn’t a hunger strike, a shareholder who attended the meeting told The Palm Beach Post. Women immigrants simply were engaging in a “boycott of dining facilities,” the shareholder, Alex Friedmann, said.
Friedmann, associate director of the Lake Worth-based Human Rights Defense Center, raised the issue at the sparsely attended meeting.
Outside, more than 100 activists from half a dozen organizations were protesting the Boca Raton firm. Members of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Dream Defenders, Enlace International, SEIU-Florida and the Palm Beach Environmental Coalition were on hand, as was Texas-based Grassroots Leadership, which has worked with Karnes facility immigrants.
Protesters blasted the billion-dollar company’s fundamental business, which hinges on a daily payment rate for every prisoner or immigrant it houses.
“No one should profit from the imprisonment of human beings,” said Kymberlie Charles, Grassroots Leadership’s director of criminal justice programs.
It’s not just imprisonment. Federal contracts to house immigrants seeking asylum are a key source of income.
The roughly 40 mothers at Karnes who collectively refused to eat food provided by GEO had asked that they and their children be released. GEO has no say over how long immigrants stay behind bars.
But the women’s self-described Holy Week fast also addressed conditions under GEO, including poor food for their children. Further, there were reports of threatened retaliation against the strike leaders by guards.
GEO, though, remains largely unscathed by this and other reports of chronic understaffing and substandard conditions.
Just the opposite: Even trading well off its recent 52-week high of $45.19, GEO’s share price remains impressive, doubling in three years.
Florida has backed GEO, too, awarding lucrative contracts to house thousands of Florida inmates. At one point, about 4 percent of GEO’s revenue came from Florida. Even Florida’s pension fund has purchased GEO stock.
As for detainee rights, “Our company adopted a Global Human Rights policy two years ago, which we believe was a first for any private correctional organization in the United States,” Geo Group told CNNMoney this year.
Paul Wright remains unimpressed.
The executive director of the Human Rights Defense Center, an inmate advocacy group, Wright noted that GEO squashed Friedmann’s shareholder proposal requiring the company to spend 5 percent of its net income to reduce inmate recidivism.
“If GEO Group truly believes that prisoners in its for-profit facilities should have the ‘greatest opportunity’ for rehabilitation, then the company should have no objection to devoting just 5 percent of its net profits towards that worthy goal,” said Wright. “But apparently being able to retain 95 percent of its profits is not enough.”