Company – ActiveThis profile is actively maintained
Company – ActiveThis profile is actively maintained
Why this profile?
GEO Group profits from the incarceration of migrants and their use as a source of cheap labour. At the beginning of his term in 2021, President Biden issued an executive order banning the use of for-profit private detention facilities at the federal level. Despite this, incarceration rates in such facilities are on the rise, with detainees often being separated from their families and enduring poor living conditions and exploitative labour practices.
What must happen
Given the well-known and protracted nature of the human rights violations at GEO Group’s facilities, banks and other financial institutions should stop financing GEO Group and divest of holdings in the company that they own or manage, including nominee shareholdings and shares invested in index funds.
|Sectors||Prisons and Immigration Detention|
listed on NYSE
GEO Group's largest shareholders are Blackrock and the Vanguard Group. A full overview of the company's shareholder structure can be accessed here.
GEO Group owns and operates private prisons and detention centres. Originally established as the Wackenhut Corrections Corporation in 1983, GEO Group facilities include prisons, immigration detention centres, minimum-security detention centres, and mental health and residential treatment facilities totalling 102 facilities. GEO Group is headquartered in the United States and manages facilities in North America, Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.
Social and human rights impacts
Mistreatment of detained persons GEO Group, together with CoreCivic, is one of the major managers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centres. These companies systematically use detained immigrants as a source of cheap forced labour, and are responsible for family separation and inhumane conditions at their detention centres.
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, an independent watchdog agency that oversees ICE, issued a damning 2021 report documenting widespread abuse at ICE detention centres. For example, inspectors in one GEO-Group-operated facility in California found “significant health and safety risks, including nooses in detainee cells, improper and overly restrictive segregation, and inadequate detainee medical care.” They also observed “expired,” “spoiled and mouldy food”, files indicating that detainees “were not offered any recreation or showers” while in solitary confinement, lack of outdoor recreation areas, and prohibitions on in-person visitation, such as with children and other family members.
Forced labour Detainees at GEO Group’s facilities are allegedly forced to work for as little as $1 per day, often under threat of punishment or loss of privileges. Some detainees have claimed they were not given adequate training or safety equipment. These allegations have repeatedly been raised with the company throughout the years, and in numerous instances lawsuits were filed. A series of lawsuits have been filed in federal courts from Washington to Georgia in the United States since 2014, claiming GEO Group violates minimum wage, unjust enrichment, and anti-slavery laws by coercing detainees to work for very little or no compensation.
Deaths at detention centres GEO Group runs detention facilities for profit, which means that cost-cutting measures are often implemented to reduce expenses. This can result in inadequate medical care, understaffing, and inadequate training for staff, all of which can contribute to an increased risk of deaths among detainees. A 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, and three other organisations working to advance the rights of detained immigrants, found that most detainee deaths are linked to largely inadequate medical care.
GEO Group’s Adelanto ICE Processing Center in California is notorious for abusive conditions, and subpar medical care practices which have in many cases resulted in suicides or preventable deaths. Examples include the case of Mr. Jose Asurdia, who died in detention after a nurse ignored clear symptoms of a heart attack; Mr. Martin Vergas, who asked to be moved because of being severely ill and at high risk of contracting COVID-19, and eventually died from the disease; Mr. Vincente Caceres-Maradiaga and Mr. Sergio Alonso Lopes who did not receive the medical attention they needed; and Mr. Gonzales-Gadba who committed suicide. All died within a period of three months, making Adelanto the deadliest US detention centre facility in 2017.
More recent examples include Mr. Ahn, who had a history of struggling with mental health issues and committed suicide in 2021 after being put in solitary confinement at GEO Group’s Mesa Verde facility, and a Nicaraguan asylum-seeker who died at GEO Group’s Aurora centre in 2022 from an embolism tied to an untreated injury, which medical experts said illustrated “a larger pattern of preventable deaths among young, relatively healthy ICE inmates”.
Family detention and separation of children from their parents The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with several facilities to detain families with children. Three such facilities are maintained across the United States: one in Pennsylvania and two in Texas. The Karnes County Residential Center in Texas is run by GEO Group, and remains operational with a capacity for 850 individuals. These facilities have a reputation for keeping parents and children in unsafe conditions without proper medical care. For example, in 2021 during the COVID-19 pandemic, 185 children were detained in unsanitary conditions at these facilities, including GEO Group’s.
Furthermore, a zero tolerance policy passed in the USA in 2018 resulted in over 3,800 children being separated from their parents at the border. Many of these children were held at GEO Group’s facilities. Civil society organisations accused GEO Group of profiting from family separation and detention. This resulted in a shareholder resolution being filed in 2019 to prohibit the company from housing immigrant detainee children or parents who had been separated from each other by U.S. government officials.
Rioting and hunger strikes Detainees at GEO Group facilities often protest against poor conditions. For instance in 2017, a facility-wide, eight-hour riot broke out in GEO Group's facility in Hinton, Oklahoma. Four hundred of the 1,940 federal inmates refused to leave the recreation yards and took control of a building. In March 2023, 300 people at the GEO-run Central Louisiana ICE Processing Centre initiated a hunger strike; similarly more than 80 people also initiated a hunger strike at two GEO Group facilities, Mesa Verde and the Golden State Annex, against poor living conditions and “slavery wages”. The strikers were met with brutal and violent retaliation from prison staff.
Profiteering from detainees Detainees at GEO Group and Core Civic facilities are charged for all kinds of services and have to use for-profit money transfers, like Western Union or Global Tel Link, to pay for them. Phone companies can charge prisoners as much as USD 25 for a 15-minute phone call. Health care, ankle monitoring, drug testing and food services are outsourced to companies through lucrative contracts.
Lobbying GEO Group and CoreCivic have historically spent considerable sums on federal lobbying. In 2018 alone, GEO Group spent USD 1.56 million. Fellow private prisons giant CoreCivic spent nearly USD 10 million between 2008 and 2014 just to lobby the House appropriations subcommittee that controls immigration-detention funding. Together, according to the Migration Policy Institute, the two corporations dished out a combined half-million dollars to Trump’s inauguration committee. A report in The Daily Beast stated, "immigration advocates say, the detention corporations pay Trump and his congressional allies, whose enthusiasm for treating immigration as a crime ensures delivery of a growing population of captives to companies that pay them far below a minimum wage." In essence, the GEO Group has, and continues to employ large numbers of lobbyists in both the state government and the federal government. This is to influence lawmakers through campaign donations to enact laws to achieve higher incarceration rates, and consequently, increase profit margins.
Lawsuits Throughout the years, GEO Group has faced numerous lawsuits relating to human rights issues. For example:
- In 2017 Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued GEO Group for paying detainee workers $1 per day for their labour at the Northwest Detention Centre in Tacoma. A federal jury in Washington State later ruled, in October 2021, that GEO Group owed $17.3 million in back pay to immigrant detainees who were denied minimum wage.
- In 2019, twenty-six immigrant fathers and sons sued GEO Group alleging that armed guards in their Texas-based detention centre used excessive force to separate them, in violation of a nationwide preliminary injunction against family separations. The lawsuit was settled in January 2023.
- In 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued GEO Group for failing to release detainees it argued were at heightened risk of contracting COVID-19 because of cramped conditions and a failure to adopt precautions at the GEO-run Adelanto facility in California. This case is still ongoing.
- In November 2021, GEO Group was ordered to pay $23.2 million for profiting since 2005 from the labour of detainees who were paid $1 a day instead of the Washington state’s minimum wage.
- In another instance, a lawsuit was filed in July 2022 by currently and formerly detained individuals at GEO Group’s Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex facilities in California, also on allegations of being forced to perform labour for GEO Group for just $1 a day. This case is ongoing.
- In February 2023, civil rights groups, including ACLU and Asian Law Caucus (ALC), filed a class-action complaint against GEO Group on behalf of 82 detained persons who have allegedly been punished for taking part in a hunger strike. The lawsuit alleges that excessive punitive measures were used, including invasive pat-downs and time in solitary confinement.
- Another lawsuit was filed in March 2023, when seven current and former detainees at the same GEO-run Adelanto facility alleged they were poisoned by a chemical agent used to disinfect the premises during the COVID-19 pandemic. Detainees reported symptoms such as burning eyes, skin irritation and fainting.
These are just but a few examples of ongoing and settled cases brought against GEO Group in recent years.
As of May 2023, several banks (BNY Mellon, JPMorgan, Morgan Stanley, UBS, BNP Paribas, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, Swiss National Bank, HSBC, Barclays and Credit Suisse) have substantive shareholdings in GEO Group. See below for more details.
In 2019, several banks announced that they will no longer finance companies that operate private prisons and detention centres. These include Bank of America, Barclays, BNP Paribas, Fifth Third Bank, JPMorgan Chase, Truist Bank, and Wells Fargo.
Prior to this, six banks (BNP Paribas, Bank of America, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Truist Bank and Wells Fargo) financed GEO Group with:
a credit facility of USD 900 million (extended in June 2019 to May 2024);
corporate loans totalling USD 792 million (March 2018 - March 2024).
Over the past few years, several investors have made the decision to remove CoreCivic and GEO Group from their investment portfolios. This includes Danish pension funds PKA and Lærernes Pension, who divested from these companies in 2019, as well as PSP, Canada's largest pension fund, which completely sold off its shares in CoreCivic and GEO Group in 2021. More recently, KLP, the Norwegian pension fund, also excluded these companies from its portfolios in 2022.
Applicable norms and standards
Today the private prison industry is largely dominated by two companies, GEO Group and CoreCivic. In 2019, the two companies had a tough year. From Families Belong Together protests that lead to Wall Street divesting to Democratic candidates saying that they will abolish the industry, if elected. After three decades of arguing it is morally wrong to profit from incarceration and detention, activists say this could be the beginning of the end for these companies.