AFSCME has long opposed the use of private prisons by government at every level. We’ve always stood for public services in the best interests of our communities, because privately-run, for-profit facilities are beholden only to a company’s shareholders. Private prisons cut corners and endanger the safety of inmates, staff and the general public. Our many objections are spelled out in this fact sheet.
Now a class-action lawsuit seems to reveal an even darker side to private prisons: their exploitation of immigrant detainees in a way that’s reminiscent of slavery.
As The Washington Post reports, tens of thousands of immigrants who were detained on suspicion of being undocumented were forced to work for $1 a day, or for nothing at all. If they refused to work, they were threatened with solitary confinement.
The alleged culprit is The GEO Group, Inc., one of the largest private prison operators in the country. It owns and operates the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado, where the plaintiffs were held.
Talk about cutting corners. Instead of hiring a cleaning crew, every day the facility’s operators allegedly forced six immigrant detainees selected at random to clean the housing units. The lawsuit charges this was a violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
Many of these immigrants were just waiting for their day in court. Being undocumented is a civil, not criminal, violation. Some were permanent residents of the U.S. who had done nothing wrong and were ultimately released.
The federal government should end all of its contracts with private prison operators like GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America). Workers and inmates in prisons run by these companies have complained about unsafe conditions.”
AFSCME rejoiced when the Obama administration last year announced it would scale back on its use of private prison operators. But the Trump administration reversed course last month, announcing it would continue to outsource this important public function.
To make matters worse, Senate Republicans this month undid an Obama administration rule that required government contractors to disclose labor law violations before they could obtain more work. This attack on a common-sense regulation is likely to encourage private prison operators to continue to push legal boundaries and disregard public safety.