The GEO group, an international private prison conglomerate that operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, issued a misleading statement this morning suggesting that up to 1000 inmates currently housed in Washington State prisons could begin moving to its North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Michigan as early as the fourth quarter of 2015.
“With its statement this morning, GEO appears to have inaccurately represented its agreement with the State of Washington,” said Michelle Woodrow, President and Director of Corrections & Law Enforcement at Teamsters Local 117. “We’ve had assurances from the Department of Corrections that there is no operational plan to move inmates out of state at this time.”
Woodrow spoke to DOC Secretary Bernie Warner this morning.
Secretary Warner did acknowledge that the Washington State DOC had signed a contract with GEO, but that the agreement served as a “contingency plan” that could move inmates out of state in the event of an emergency.
The GEO group is the nation’s second largest private prison operator and has been at the heart of a number of controversies within the for-profit prison system.
GEO’s Northwest Detention Center was widely criticized by immigration groups recently over its handling of an assault involving an elderly detainee. The group’s Baldwin, Michigan, facility was closed by the state in 2015 due to high levels of violence, inadequate staffing, and excessive operating costs. And a 2014 report by the ACLU described "shocking" neglect, abuse, mistreatment, discrimination, and arbitrary solitary confinement at GEO group facilities.
In a report issued last month, the US Department of Justice found that the GEO Group "[c]onsistently struggled to meet or exceed baseline contractual standards; received an unacceptable number of deficiencies and notices of concern; was unresponsive to (Bureau of Prison) inquiries; struggled with staffing issues in health services and correctional services; and frequently submitted inaccurate routine paperwork, including erroneous disciplinary hearing records and monthly invoices." DOJ auditors also found that GEO delivered nearly $3 million in "unallowable or unsupported" charges to the federal government.
“Private, for-profit prisons have a dismal track record in terms of ensuring staff safety, curbing violence, and preparing offenders to return to the community. The State should be focusing on making accommodations to responsibly house its existing prison population rather than contracting with a private prison group, especially one with a dubious track record like GEO," Woodrow said.