Bad Publicity Not So Bad In Corrections

They’ve lost a government contract in Colorado. They’ve been part of a Department of Corrections (DOC) audit where a state official was found to be on their payroll while he served as the director of prisons.

They have detained former Swift employees in an ICE lockup in Aurora, where in 1998, 22 inmates were suddenly relocated from the center to other facilities while business negotiations between the federal government were being resolved.

And now, they’ve won a $7.7 million contract from the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).Who are “they?” The GEO Group, a private prison firm formerly known as Wackenhut Corrections.

GEO has a less than stellar record in Colorado, where lawmakers like Rep. Buffie McFadyen have called for the DOC to rescind a contract that the company won in Ault, Colo. The firm won the bid with the help of Nolin Renfrow, the former head of prisons who was reported to be moonlighting for GEO while he served as an official.

In December, GEO lost a state contract for failing to start construction on a prison in Pueblo four years after the agreement was obtained.

But despite the problems in Colorado, the federal BOP announced in late June that it had awarded a $7.7 million contract to GEO for residential community corrections services in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Meanwhile, a prisoners’ rights group in Washington, D.C., has filed a lawsuit alleging “grossly inadequate and inhumane” medical practices in a GEO run facility in North Carolina. 

From the Washington Post:

Keith Mathis, 32, a plaintiff in the class-action suit, said he asked to have an infected tooth pulled but received a filling instead. Over the next few months, the problem worsened, growing into an open sore and eventually requiring emergency surgery when his face “burst open,” the suit alleges.

But even with national media attention, exploding faces and all, it doesn’t appear to have deterred the federal government from doing business with GEO.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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