As the federal stimulus dollars begin to trickle down to the states this week, Erin Rosa provides a very timely profile of national private prison matron, The GEO Group, which operates facilities in Colorado.
While the nation’s economy flounders, business is booming for The GEO Group Inc., a private prison firm that is paid millions by the U.S. government to detain undocumented immigrants and other federal inmates. In the last year and a half, GEO announced plans to add a total of at least 3,925 new beds to immigration lockups in five locations. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency and the U.S. Marshals Service, which hire the company, will fill the beds with inmates awaiting court and deportation proceedings.
GEO reported impressive quarterly earnings of $20 million on February 12, 2009, along with an annual income of $61 million for 2008 – up from $38 million the year before. But the company’s share value is not the only thing that’s growing. Behind the financial success and expansion of the for-profit prison firm, there are increasing charges of negligence, civil rights violations, abuse and even death.
In 2006, while on the state payroll as director of prisons at the Colorado Department of Corrections, Nolin Renfrow helped GEO obtain a $14 million-per-year contract to detain 1,500 inmates in a proposed state prison project in the northern part of the state. Renfrow was moonlighting for GEO –with an expected compensation of $1 million – when a 2007 state audit and news reports uncovered the public servant’s business deal.
The audit found that Renfrow’s actions could “arguably present a conflict of interest and result in a breach of … the public trust,” because state law prohibited an “employee from assisting any person for a fee or other compensation in obtaining any contract.”
The county district attorney with jurisdiction over Renfrow declined to press criminal charges, but in the wake of the scandal, officials with the state’s corrections department rescinded the contract.