Private Prison Company Gets Haiti Contract

February 19, 2010

The Federal Procurement Data System shows that GEO Group Inc. received a no-bid contract worth $260,589 in the wake of the earthquake in Haiti. The contract length is just over one month; it was awarded by the Department of Homeland Security through the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for “guard services.”

The company, formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections Corp., is a multinational corporation which runs numerous prison facilities in the US.

GEO Group has been at the center of numerous scandals involving their facilities and their treatment of prisoners. The most recent occurred just last month, less than two weeks before receiving their contract in Haiti. Gregorio de la Rosa Jr. was beaten to death in a GEO Group facility in 2001. In early January of this year, The GEO Group reached a settlement in the wrongful death suit, agreeing to pay in excess of $40 million.

The settlement followed “a scathing opinion that the Thirteenth Court of Appeals issued in April,” according to the Brownsville Herald. The Herald reports:

“We find that Wackenhut’s conduct was clearly reprehensible and, frankly, constituted a disgusting display of disrespect for the welfare of others and for this state’s civil justice system,” the appellate court noted in its opinion.

The article continues:

The appellate court noted that the case supported the award of punitive damages, “given the horrific facts of this case, including Wackenhut’s malicious and grossly negligent conduct, the gruesome manner in which Gregorio was killed, and Wackenhut’s behavior in attempting to cover up its liability . . .”

This is far from the only scandal involving GEO Group. CorpWatch detailed numerous others in a report in 2009, including:

In 2007, the firm settled a lawsuit with the family of an inmate for $200,000. LeTisha Tapia, a 23-year-old woman incarcerated at the GEO-owned Val Verde Correction Facility in southern Texas, told her family in July 2004 that she had been raped and beaten after being locked in the same cell block with male inmates. Shortly after, she had hung herself in her cell. The nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project sued GEO on behalf of Tapia’s family.

It is not just the conditions at the facilities that have caused controversy but also connections to government officials. A contract for a facility in Colorado was cancelled after a 2006 state auditor’s report.  The Denver Post reported:

The calls for rescinding the contract stem from a November 2006 state auditor’s report. At that time, auditors concluded that Nolin Renfrow helped Geo Group prepare its bid to construct and operate the Ault prison.

The audit said Renfrow, the state’s former director of prisons, had private business activities that “arguably present a conflict of interest and result in a breach of his fiduciary duty and the public trust.”

Chantell Taylor, director of Colorado Citizens for Ethics in Government, said Renfrow took paid sick leave – earning $14,000 – to pursue his private business work on behalf of Geo Group. According to the auditor’s report, Renfrow’s company could earn as much as $1 million if GEO Group builds the prison.

According to the Institute on Money in State Politics, which analyzed political contributions and lobbying expenditures from private prison companies:

Companies favored states with some of the toughest sentencing laws, particularly those that had enacted legislation to lengthen the sentence given to any offender who was convicted of a felony for the third time. Private-prison interests gave almost $2.1 million in 22 states that had a so-called “three-strikes law,” compared with $1.2 million in 22 states that did not.

The GEO Group was one of the largest contributors, spending over half a million dollars on the 2002 and 2004 elections cycles. This amount only includes donations from the company and not employees, executives, etc. In addition to this, lobbyists representing GEO gave almost $350,000.

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