Private Prisons to ICE: Foot the Bill for Human Trafficking Lawsuits

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Forced MarriageHuman TraffickingLaw & Policy

Private prison bosses have a desperate message for Immigration and Customs Enforcements (ICE): pay our multi-million dollar legal bills and defend the company against forced labor lawsuits.

GEO Group and CoreCivic — the nation’s two largest for-profit prison companies — currently face half a dozen lawsuits for allegedly subjecting immigrant detainees to forced labor and paying them just $1 a day. Those who refuse say they’ve been threatened with solitary confinement, and it looks like GEO Group sees this as a sanction endorsed by ICE.

In a series of shocking emails between private prison firm Geo Group and ICE obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, prison CEOs not only beg the government to reimburse their legal costs; they expect them to defend them in court.

“GEO cannot bear the costs of this defense on its own,” writes Dave Venturella, GEO’s senior vice president of business development on Feb. 14, 2018.

“To the extent that plaintiffs allege that disciplinary segregation [solitary confinement] is an unlawful threat for refusal to work, this sanction comes directly from ICE policies, which ICE should assist in defending.”

The Daily Beast reports:

The communications—which Northwestern University Political Science Professor Jacqueline Stevens obtained by FOIA and shared with The Daily Beast—paint a picture of deep distress within the company regarding its legal bills.

“GEO’s contracts with ICE require that GEO administer the VWP [Voluntary Work Program] at the Aurora and Tacoma facilities, and set the reimbursable rate for that participation at $1 per detainee per day, an amount that cannot be increased without ICE’s authorization,” wrote Venturella.

Venturella asked for an “equitable adjustment”—government contractor-speak for extra money to offset unexpected costs of fulfilling a contract. In other words, GEO Group hoped taxpayer dollars would cover the legal bills they racked up for allegedly violating human trafficking laws.

Several months later, GEO’s CEO, George Zoley, echoed Venturella’s plea. In a letter to ICE’s acting deputy director on May 30, he begged for money.

“We are deeply alarmed at the rapidly increasing costs in defending these lawsuits without reimbursement from ICE, or assistance in their defense by the Department of Justice,” he wrote.

Despite their pleas, it appears both ICE and the DOJ declined the GEO’s request to pick up their legal defense bills, sending the company a letter in July 2018.

In response to the letters being made public, Pablo Paez, a spokesperson for GEO Group, said this is business as usual. “Seeking reimbursement for legal expenses that are out of the ordinary is not inconsistent with the disclosure that the litigation in question is not expected to have a material adverse effect,” he said.

Professor Stevens, who obtained the letters through FOIA, said the correspondence shows that “private prisons act as though decades of labor law violations entitle them to exploit people in perpetuity.”

“It’s about time they start following the rule of law and it’s ridiculous that they expect taxpayer reimbursements for unlawful profits.”

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James Cerullo Recent comment authors
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James Cerullo
James Cerullo

private prisons are freeloaders. Shut them down. they can’t or won’t do the job they were hired to do.