‘Super jail’ fiesta a prelude to Colorado’s new federal detention facility?

The for-profit prison firm the GEO Group celebrated the grand opening of its new, 1,500-bed federal detention center in Texas last week with a joyous bash featuring camouflage-clad guards and a mariachi band, providing a possible hint about a similar lockup that the corrections business is planning to open up in the Denver area by 2009.

As a corrections blogger who opposed construction of the new prison in Texas and attended the grand opening noted, the fiesta featured an almost cult-like corporate atmosphere, one that will sound very familiar to reporters who have covered the GEO Group:

The GEO Group’s Laredo Superjail [sic], a 1,500 bed federal detention center that attracted opposition in Laredo and around the state, held it’s grand opening Wednesday. As someone involved in the organizing against the prison, which will hold mostly immigrants being held under criminal immigration charges under the Orwellian-titled Operation Streamline, I was especially sad to see this prison open.

I attended the opening, and have to admit it was even more surreal than I could have imagined — complete with a high school mariachi band singing in Spanish, a cake in the shape of the GEO Group’s corporate logo, and a slew of new GEO Group prison guards (many of whom looked to be 18 or 19) wearing desert camo style uniforms.

The newest jail in Laredo is just the latest in a massive push by the GEO Group to drastically expand the size of its detention centers in the United States. In the Denver area the company is proceeding with its contentious plan to expand a 400-bed facility that holds immigrants detained by the federal government to 1,500 beds — the same size at the prison in Laredo — for an estimated annual income of $30 million.

Immigrant rights and civil liberties advocates have been quick to point to the GEO Group’s poor track record in the state, where two contracts with the firm to build prisons in Colorado were rescinded in one year by state officials after numerous problems were found with both agreements.

The GEO Group is also planning a massive expansion its 500-bed North Lake Correctional Facility in Michigan by 1,225 beds, but so far mariachis have not been confirmed.

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 erosa@www.coloradoindependent.com.



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