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Brush Correctional Facility
Brush, Colorado
June 21, 2005 Rocky Mountain News
Three states could pull their inmates from Colorado's private prisons by the end of the summer, spooked by a recent sexual misconduct scandal and squeezed by Colorado's own rising prisoner population. The state's five private facilities house about 2,700 Colorado inmates. They also contract with three other states - Hawaii, Washington and Wyoming - to hold prisoners those states can't, due to overcrowding. The private prisons have lost or stand to lose nearly 400 out-of-state inmates, which would be an approximately $20,000 per-day hit spread between two Tennessee firms who run them. State officials say they can fill the gap with 400 Colorado inmates waiting for prison beds - contradicting warnings the private firms sounded earlier this year - and suggest that facilities filled only with Colorado prisoners could prove easier to control. Corrections officials say it's easier to manage prisoners from one state, because they are all used to the same rules. Some states, for example allow cigarette smoking or conjugal visits, which Colorado does not. "It is always easier to manage a single jurisdiction population," said Alison Morgan, a corrections department spokeswoman. Later, she said the loss of out-of-state inmates "is not a bad thing."  Officials also have said out-of- state inmates may have fueled or contributed to two riots in the past decade, including one at the Crowley County Correctional Facility last July. Washington once sent more than 200 prisoners to Colorado. The state has moved all but a few to other states, a Washington corrections official said Monday. Wyoming will move its 54 male inmates - already down from a high of 300 - from Colorado by summer's end, a corrections spokeswoman there said. Wyoming has already moved 38 female inmates from a private prison in Brush, in part because of alleged sexual misconduct between prison guards and inmates that surfaced in February. Hawaiian officials are rebidding their contract to house 80 women who are in Brush. Twenty- one state lawmakers urged their governor in April to move those inmates "immediately," the Honolulu Advertiser reported.

April 17, 2005 AP
Lawmakers are petitioning Gov. Linda Lingle to move dozens of female Hawaii inmates out of a Colorado prison where staffers were allegedly involved in sexual misconduct with prisoners. Twenty-one members of the Women's Legislative Caucus want Lingle to increase state monitoring of the Brush Correctional Facility in Colorado and ultimately move the 80 Hawaii inmates to another facility. House Judiciary Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, D-Pacific Heights-Punchbowl, said she is concerned about reports that prison staff may be retaliating against Hawaii inmates following allegations that guards were involved in sexual misconduct earlier this year with inmates from Hawaii, Colorado and Wyoming. Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, said Hawaii inmates have faced unfair administrative punishments and had legal records confiscated. The inmates believe these are examples of retaliatory acts, Brady said. GRW chief executive officer Gil Walker has said he expects Colorado to increase its number of inmates in Brush, so the company won't take a financial hit when Wyoming removes it's inmates. "I don't think it will hurt us at all," Walker said.

April 14, 2005 Honolulu Advertiser
Wyoming will remove its women inmates from a privately run Mainland prison that also houses Hawai'i women inmates, the same prison where staff members were accused of sexual misconduct involving Hawai'i, Wyoming and Colorado inmates. Melinda Brazzale, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Department of Corrections, cited a recent series of problems at the prison in the decision to remove the Wyoming inmates from the Brush Correctional Facility in Colorado. Those problems included criminal charges filed against staff members and the former warden in connection with the sexual misconduct allegations, and revelations that the prison allowed five convicted felons to work there because their background checks had not been completed. Investigations by Colorado state prison officials concluded prison staff had been involved in alleged sexual misconduct with two Hawai'i inmates, two Colorado inmates and four Wyoming inmates. Two other members of the prison staff were charged in an alleged cigarette smuggling ring.

March 24, 2005 AP
Colorado prison officials are reviewing background checks for employees at five private prisons run by Tennessee companies after discovering that some employees at one of them had criminal records. State Corrections Department spokeswoman Alison Morgan said Thursday that five convicted criminals and three people whose backgrounds "merited further investigation" had been hired at the Brush Correctional Facility, a privately run women's prison where several guards face charges of having consensual sex with inmates and smuggling tobacco into the facility. Morgan said a former warden for GRW Corp., a Brentwood, Tenn.-based company that has held a state contract to run the prison for 18 months, failed to complete background checks for some employees. The failure was first reported by KCNC-TV of Denver. She said it appears that fingerprints for the guards that were sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation were smudged or otherwise unreadable. The prints were sent back to the prison, which did not follow up, Morgan said. Morgan said the Corrections Department's Private Prisons Monitoring Unit does not have the staff or funding to regularly conduct its own background checks of private-prison employees.

March 23, 2005 Rocky Mountain News
People with criminal records were hired to work at a Brush prison where several employees are facing charges for allegedly having sex with inmates, according to a CBS 4 News investigation. The Brush Correctional Facility is a medium-security prison that holds 250 women. GRW Corp., a private company headquartered in Tennessee, runs the prison and hired several employees with criminal records to watch over the inmates, according to CBS 4 News. The company has fired six employees with criminal histories so far. Four guards have resigned from the prison, and one has been put on administrative leave. The warden, Rick Soares, resigned Feb. 18, a month after the Department of Corrections first received reports of sexual misconduct. Three prison guards are facing criminal charges for allegedly having sex with seven inmates. Two other guards and an inmate are accused of smuggling contraband cigarettes into the facility. The list of the prison employees with questionable backgrounds includes 28-year-old Angela Gallegos, CBS 4 News said. A prison guard, she was arrested on a felony charge three years ago and pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment. Heather Henry, 24, was also hired as a guard. Her record includes arrests for harassment, domestic violence-assault, violating protective orders and child abuse. Richard Fairchild, 42, was convicted of domestic violence and violating a restraining order. Gil Walker, president of GRW, said these are the last people who should be working in a prison and should have never been hired. "We don't hire questionable people, and that's the embarrassing part," Walker told CBS 4 News. Walker said the company never finished its background checks on potential employees and didn't know their full histories.

March 10, 2005 Fort Morgan Times
Morgan County District Attorney Bob Watson filed additional charges Wednesday in connection with the prison sexual misconduct scandal in Brush. The new indictments include a charge of unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution lodged against a second guard, charges of being an accessory to a crime against the former warden and charges against another nine current or former prison employees related to introducing contraband cigarettes into the prison and conspiracy to commit introduction of contraband. According to Watson, the new charges are not necessarily all that will result from his office's ongoing investigation of the GRW-owned private prison. According to case filings made Wednesday in Morgan County District Court, corrections officer Fredrick Henry Woller, 32, of Brush is charged with unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution, a class five felony. Specifically, Woller is alleged to have engaged in sexual conduct with prisoner Cristie Maez. Also charged Wednesday was former Warden Richard "Rick" Soares Jr., 57, of Sterling, who was allegedly an accessory to the crime of unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution, also a class five felony. He is accused of hindering the investigation. The pair joins corrections officer Russell Rollison, 31, of Brush, who was charged last week with unlawful sexual conduct in a penal institution. Other charges resulting from the criminal probe to date regard prison food service and other prison employees allegedly conspiring with inmates to bring cigarettes into the prison. Cigarettes have been banned from Colorado penal institutions since 1999. Those charged with introducing contraband in the second degree, a class six felony, and conspiracy to commit introduction of contraband, also a class six felony, are: Pania Akopian, 31, Pisa Tuvale, 35, Annette Cummings, 38, Janice Crockett, 47, and Jeannette Dillon, 38, all of whom have the Brush Correctional Facility listed as their address; Gail Guerrero, no age listed, and Maria Ramirez, 46, both of Brush; Charmayne Kalama, 28, of Kapolei, Hawaii, and Stannie T. Muramoto, 46, of Honolulu, Hawaii. According to Gil Walker, CEO of Tennessee-based GRW, which owns the 250-bed private prison, an internal investigation uncovered only consensual sex between the guards and prisoners. Alison Morgan, a state corrections department spokeswoman, said the DOC investigation revealed at least some of the sex as having been initiated by inmates. She said inmates from both Hawaii and Wyoming admitted to initiating the encounters either so they could be returned home or in an effort to sue the prison. However, a Hawaii attorney representing two of the inmates has alleged his clients were raped. The case was referred to DA Watson's office by the state corrections department's inspector general's office. The Brush prison, which became the first private prison for women in Colorado, opened in August, 2003. It houses 80 inmates from Hawaii, 73 from Colorado and 45 from Wyoming. Colorado pays $50 a day to GRW to house its prisoners.

March 10, 2005 The Denver Channel
The former warden and 10 other people at the privately run Brush Correctional Facility for Women face felony charges for conduct ranging from having sex with inmates to smuggling tobacco into the prison. Filings released by District Attorney Robert Watson show 32-year-old Fredrick Henry Woller faces a felony charge for allegedly having sex with an inmate. Former warden Rick Soares, 57, faces charges of being an accessory for allegedly hindering the discovery of Woller's conduct. Earlier this month, two correctional officers and seven female inmates were charged with several offenses, including introducing contraband in the form of tobacco. Watson said other investigations are pending. Soares last month resigned from Tennessee-based GRW, which owns the 250-bed prison in Morgan County, after a month-long investigation implicated several officers. The department's inspector general's staff reported to Watson last month that three officers had sex with four inmates from Wyoming, two from Colorado and two from Hawaii. Some of the women alleged they were raped, but investigators concluded the sex was consensual. Having sex with an inmate is a felony for guards. The facility became the first private prison for women in Colorado in August 2003.

March 4, 2005 Star Bulletin
Female inmates from Hawaii will remain at a privately run women's prison in Colorado where five officers face sexual misconduct and contraband charges, Hawaii officials said yesterday. A visit to the prison by state monitors last month shows Hawaii does not need to transfer its inmates to an alternate facility, said Richard Bissen, interim director of Hawaii's Department of Public Safety. "Incidents like this happen at facilities," Bissen said. "But that place is being more closely monitored than ever, and the women themselves say they are safe." Three prison officers had sex with a total of four Hawaii inmates, two Colorado inmates and one Wyoming inmate, according to Alison Morgan, a spokesperson for the Colorado corrections department. Two of the officers have resigned, and a third is on administrative leave. Investigations show the sex was consensual, said Gil Walker, founder and chief executive of Tennessee-based GRW, which owns the Brush Correctional Facility for Women, located in Colorado. One case involved two Hawaii inmates and a guard, who admitted to engaging in sexual activity in January in the prison library. Some civil rights advocates argue that there is no such thing as consensual sex between an inmate and an authority figure. "We have a law that says it's a felony. It's not consensual when someone is in custody," said Kat Brady, an advocate with the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii. Myles Breiner, a Honolulu lawyer who is representing the Hawaii inmates, has said the women were forced to perform a sex act for Rollison. Morgan said some Hawaii and Wyoming inmates admitted they believed having sex with the guards would help them get transferred to their home states, where they would be closer to relatives.

February 25, 2005 Denver Post
The warden resigned and five correctional officers at the privately run Brush Correctional Facility for women face sexual misconduct and contraband charges in the wake of a criminal probe. Warden Rick Soares resigned from Tennessee-based GRW, which owns the 250-bed prison in Brush, on Feb. 18 after a month-long investigation implicated the five officers, said Alison Morgan, state Department of Corrections spokeswoman. The warden was not implicated in the wrongdoing. The department's inspector general's office referred contraband allegations involving two staff members and one inmate and sexual misconduct allegations involving three staff members to District Attorney Robert Watson on Thursday. Three officers who were not named had sex with four Hawaiian inmates, two Colorado inmates and one Wyoming inmate, Morgan said. Two of the officers resigned, and a third is on administrative leave pending the outcome of the criminal case. Some of the women alleged they were raped, but investigators concluded the sex was consensual, sometimes initiated by inmates, Morgan said. It's still a felony offense for correctional officers, she said. She said some Hawaiian and Wyoming inmates acknowledged they had sex with correctional officers because they believed they would be returned home, where they would be closer to relatives. Others hoped to file lawsuits against the prison. Two officers and an inmate were caught sneaking tobacco into the prison, Morgan said.

Clark County Jail
Clark County, Washington
Wexford (formerly run by Prisons Health Services)

December 17, 2009 The Skanner News
In the wake of a required 60-day background investigation by local officials, the racial discrimination tort claim by three law enforcement employees against Clark County Corrections has expanded into a full-on lawsuit seeking millions in damages. The lawsuit, detailing more than a dozen instances of racist harassment that allegedly took place throughout the past 20 years, has been brought against the county by former Clark County Sheriffs Department Commander Clifford B. Evelyn, 58; former corrections officer Britt Easterly, 39, now with the U.S. Secret Service in Washington D.C.; and Elzy P. Edwards, 46, an unsuccessful applicant for Clark County Corrections who is now working with the Washington Department of Corrections. Evelyn is seeking $1 million, while Easterly and Edwards are asking $500,000 each in damages. A 20-year veteran of the corrections department who had recently been honored for his efforts to promote diversity in its ranks, Evelyn was fired in June after an Internal Affairs investigation found he had violated general orders regarding “harassment,” “courtesy” and “competency.” In the joint lawsuit against Clark County, Edwards, who unsuccessfully applied for a job at Clark County Corrections, alleges that the hiring process was unfair; Easterly, as well as Evelyn, allege they were subjected to a long-standing atmosphere of racist incidents and comments. Evelyn also alleges unfair treatment at the hands of Clark County Corrections Chief Jail Deputy Sheriff Jackie Batties, as well as management and staff of Wexford Health Solutions, the company contracted to provide health care services at the jail. Documents obtained by The Skanner News show that a former Wexford employee, who has since been convicted of stealing cash from a co-worker’s purse, filed a complaint against Evelyn this year that kicked off a chain of events resulting in his firing. Evelyn had for the past two years reported on Wexford Health Sources’ failure to meet the terms of their operations contract, including submitting a detailed report in writing delivered to his supervisors at Clark County more than a year before the county’s own performance audit confirmed his allegations. Elsewhere around the nation, in July of this year million-dollar lawsuits were filed against Wexford corporation and New Mexico state corrections officials by incarcerated men and women alleging similar problems – even deaths -- at Wexford-managed health programs in the state’s prison system. Also in New Mexico, a Black dentist won a racial discrimination case against Wexford in November of 2008 when the company was found guilty by a federal jury of paying him a smaller wage on the basis of his race. Clark County contracted with Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Solutions in 2006 after problems cropped up with their former jailhouse health care provider, Prison Health Services. Clark County officials signed a three-year, $9 million contract with Wexford set to expire in 2010. Its May, 2009 report, prepared by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, was intended as a performance audit. Several documents obtained by The Skanner News show that reports Evelyn had filed with superiors in 2008 about Wexford’s failure to meet the demands of its contract were validated by Clark County’s performance audit. In a series of memos to his superiors dated before the release of Clark County’s own report on Wexford’s performance this past June, Evelyn had outlined specific examples of the corporation’s failure to follow the terms of its contract with Clark County, from lack of a written operations manual to untrained staff, lack of medical supplies onsite and a tendency to “short” the jails’ medical services that forced Clark County to pay out more in resources to cover the gaps. The chief finding of Clark County’s own investigation into Wexford was that “the company has systematically failed to comply with the many complex undertakings included in its contract with the county.” Evelyn, Easterly and Edwards were unavailable for comment at press time. Clark County officials are declining media requests while the legal case is pending.

October 16, 2009 The Skanner News
Former Clark County Sheriff's Department Commander Clifford B. Evelyn, fired from his job in June of this year, had repeatedly detailed shortcomings by Wexford Health Sources in fulfilling the terms of their contract to provide health care to county inmates more than a year before the county’s own performance audit did, records obtained by The Skanner News show. Evelyn, an award-winning 20-year veteran of the Clark County corrections department, is one of a trio of men who last month filed racial discrimination tort claims against the Clark County Sheriffs department. Evelyn, who is seeking a $1 million judgment, was fired after an Internal Affairs investigation found he had violated general orders regarding “harassment,” “courtesy” and “competency.” Race and Law Enforcement -- Evelyn declined to speak to the press before a ruling on his tort claim, which alleges incidents of racial harassment from his co-workers, trainers and superiors in Clark County corrections dating back to 1989. In addition to Evelyn, tort claims for $500,000 each have been filed against Clark County by former corrections officer Britt Easterly, now with the U.S. Secret Service in Washington D.C, and Elzy P. Edwards, an unsuccessful applicant for Clark County corrections who is now working with the Washington Department of Corrections. All three are represented by Portland attorney Thomas S. Boothe. In September of 2008 the City of Vancouver settled for $1.65 million with former Vancouver Police Officer Navin Sharma, a native of India and eight-year veteran of the bureau. Sharma brought a racial discrimination case after being fired for allegedly making errors and “using repetitive language” in his DUI reports. He had previously won a 2000 racial discrimination complaint from the city for $287,000. Evelyn, Easterly and Edwards’s tort filing triggers a 60-day investigation into the claims by the county, and may be followed by a lawsuit. Report Backs Up Whistleblower -- Clark County contracted with Pennsylvania-based Wexford Health Solutions in 2006 after problems cropped up with their former jailhouse health care provider, Prison Health Services. Clark County officials signed a three-year, $9 million contract with Wexford set to expire in 2010. the county’s May, 2009 report, prepared by the Institute for Law and Policy Planning, was intended as a performance audit. Several documents obtained by The Skanner News show that memos Evelyn had filed with superiors in 2008 about Wexford’s failure to meet the demands of its contract were later validated by Clark County’s audit. In a series of memos to his superiors dated before the public release of Clark County’s own report on Wexford’s performance this past June, Evelyn outlined specific examples of the corporation’s failure to follow the terms of its contract with Clark County, They range from lack of a written operations manual, to consistent deployment of untrained staff, lack of medical supplies onsite and a tendency to “short” the jails’ medical services that forced Clark County to pay out more in resources to cover the gaps. “In February 2007 Clark County awarded the inmate health contract to Wexford Health Source, Inc.,” Evelyn wrote in a July, 2008, memo to Gene Pearce, Clark County deputy prosecuting attorney. “Since that time there have been numerous issue(s) whereas Wexford has not met the terms of the contract and in many cases violated contractual terms leading to concerns surrounding liability for the Sheriff’s office.” The chief finding of Clark County’s investigation into Wexford was that “the company has systematically failed to comply with the many complex undertakings included in its contract with the county.” Consistent Problems -- The issues raised by Evelyn, as well as the county’s report, are echoed in recent lawsuits against Wexler filed this past summer in New Mexico. Evelyn’s laundry list of Wexford’s contract violations included the lack of any operating manual or written procedures; inadequate staffing and medical supplies; inadequate training and oversight for medical employees; delays in providing medicine and services to chronically-ill inmates; promotion of workers into positions where they were not properly licensed, and even a refusal by some mental health counselors to provide services to inmates they “didn’t like.” Clark County’s investigation singled out the lack of a policies and procedures manual; lack of a staff management improvement program that Wexford had pledged to institute as part of its initial bid for the contract; staffing, management and communication failures; inadequate staffing levels; lack of training; problems with licenses and credentials; inadequate medical records and obstacles in pharmacy arrangements between Wexford and the corrections staff. Meanwhile, the Albuquerque Journal newspaper reported on July 17 of this year that a Wexford doctor, as well as state corrections officials, are being sued for medical malpractice in the case of a prisoner denied adequate treatment. The newspaper has also reported on numerous other charges that have been filed in New Mexico alleging sexual assault by a Wexford mental health counselor. The lawsuit and charges followed a 2007 performance audit that faulted Wexford’s operations in the Southwestern state.

Crowley County Correctional Facility
Olney Springs, Colorado
CCA (formerly Dominion)
August 25, 2005 Westword
Slow burn: The 2004 Crowley riot caused extensive fire damage. When all hell broke loose last year at the Crowley County Correctional Facility, a private prison on Colorado's eastern plains, Vance Adams stayed very, very quiet. From his cell door, Adams could see prisoners armed with weight bars running in and out of his unit, smashing windows, busting up plumbing, setting fires and raiding offices and vending machines. "They looked like they were having a good time," Adams says. "But I wasn't." After a confrontation in the yard on July 20, 2004, the understaffed guards evacuated quickly, leaving the inmates free to rampage for hours, causing millions of dollars' worth of damage. Adams, serving a five-year sentence on drug and escape charges, soaked some towels to try to block smoke and tear gas from his cell. Prison and state Special Operations Response Teams (SORT) arrived in the unit around midnight and ordered everyone to put their hands on their heads and crawl backward, face down. When Adams tried to sign the orders to his cellmate, who is deaf, the officers became more belligerent, he says. "I screamed back at them, 'My roommate is deaf!'" he recalls. "They calmed down a little bit, but I guess I wasn't crawling fast enough." Adams says he was tightly cuffed, dragged by his ankles through the water flooding the unit, hauled outside and thrown on the grass of the prison ball field, where he remained until mid-morning. Older prisoners around him were passing out; others cried out for medical attention after being sprayed with birdshot, pepper gas or rubber bullets. "When the SORT officers cuffed me, they broke my wrist," reads the affidavit of inmate Terry Borrowdale. "They left me cuffed with a fractured wrist for four to five hours, until I was taken by ambulance to a hospital in Pueblo.... When I told the SORT officers that I am almost sixty years old and had no part in the riot, one officer answered, 'This is what you all deserve for what you have done.'" Bad as the riot was, many prisoners say they suffered greater injuries from the aftermath of the disturbance, as officers from the Colorado Department of Corrections and Corrections Corporation of America, the private prison operator, regained control. A group of more than eighty inmates is filing a lawsuit against CCA this week, claiming the company let conditions deteriorate before the riot, then brutalized men who didn't participate in the uprising. Prisoners claim they were assaulted by officers, shot (with live ammo, in at least one case) while fleeing burning buildings or trying to surrender, denied medical treatment, forced to strip in front of female staff and denied showers for up to a week after the incident. Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, a Washington-based public-interest group, has joined Boulder attorney Bill Trine in representing the inmates. The attorneys have obtained thousands of pages of the state's investigation of the riot and are seeking access to videotapes made by staff. "There's absolutely no question about what happened during the riot," Trine says, "and there's a lot pointing the finger at CCA. They had to get the riot under control, but what they did afterward was to punish everybody, whether they were involved in the riot or not." The Colorado DOC's after-action report on the riot blasted CCA management for ignoring state inspectors' recommendations before the riot, for inadequate staff training and for pitiful emergency-response procedures. The report noted that SORT teams fired hundreds of rounds of buckshot, birdshot and rubber bullets -- as well as slugs, smoke grenades, "stingballs" and pepper-spray canisters -- but concluded that "reasonable force was used" to regain control of the prison. But since that report was released, the DOC has also come under fire from state auditors for failing to adequately monitor the private prison. As first reported in Westword last year, visits by DOC monitors were often shorter than required and suffered from a lack of followup on critical issues such as poor food, skimpy portions, chronic staff turnover and abysmal inmate morale ("Going Off," December 23, 2004). Investigative files obtained by the prisoners' attorneys indicate that DOC and CCA staff received more warnings from inmates of an upcoming disturbance than previously acknowledged. One counselor told investigators that several staff members had turned in reports on the matter but "the administration seemed more concerned about who the [source] was than about the information on a potential riot." At the time of the riot, Crowley held 1,122 inmates, including some from Washington and Wyoming as well as Colorado, but had only 47 employees on duty. Although the riot was triggered by an alleged misuse of force on a Washington inmate, investigators found that inmates had a wide array of grievances, from the disparity in treatment of inmates from different states to rotten food. Investigators sampled the food in the dining hall and "found it to be of very poor quality and distasteful." After the riot, prisoners say, they were kicked and struck by guards while cuffed, dragged face-down through vomit or feces-tainted water, and threatened with more violence. An inmate named Arnold Wyrick claims he was denied access to a bathroom, had to defecate in his pants, and was forced to wear the soiled clothing for eight hours while guards called him "Mr. Shitty Pants" and asked, "Does the little baby need a diaper?" The investigative files also indicate that some prisoners performed heroically during the riot. Inmates in one honor pod repelled rioters who tried to enter their house and manned a bucket brigade to put out fires. Afterward, they were shoved into overcrowded cells with no mattresses or shipped off to more restrictive prisons or county jails. The prison was locked down for nearly a month after the riot. Recently paroled inmates say that conditions at Crowley are no better than before, and possibly worse, with limited access to recreation and to the DOC's monitors. "I rarely saw a monitor around," says Adams, who's now in a Denver halfway house. "They'd have us cleaning the place a day before any inspection." Inmate Oscar Barron, who left Crowley last spring and is now on parole on a robbery charge, says staff training is still a sore point. "They've got guys right out of high school and old ladies," he says. "Come on. Are they going to protect you if something happens?" The DOC did not respond to questions about its officers' alleged mistreatment of handcuffed inmates. CCA spokesman Steve Owen hadn't seen a copy of the complaint and declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit. "CCA will aggressively defend the complaint," he says. "Beyond that, we believe the most appropriate venue to respond is through proper court filings rather than by way of public comment."
Adele Kimmel, staff attorney for Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, says her group became involved in the case because of a lack of "significant reform" in the way CCA manages its four prisons in southeastern Colorado. "We think the lawsuit is the best mechanism for holding CCA accountable and preventing future riots," she says.

August 25, 2005 Rocky Mountain News
Vance Adams had been worried for weeks that something was going to happen at the Crowley County Correctional Facility, the privately run prison where he was incarcerated, and on the night of July 20, 2004, those fears were realized when fellow inmates went wild. First he saw prisoners smashing glass inside the prison. Then he looked out the window of his cell and saw flames - one of several blazes lit that night by rioting inmates. "We were scared," he said. "We didn't know what to do." But as frightened as he was of marauding inmates, the treatment he and other prisoners endured at the hands of guards was similarly stressful, he said Wednesday. Those guards, he alleged, dragged him and another prisoner out of their cell by their ankles, cinched their wrists tightly with plastic bands, left them for hours with no water, and told them to urinate in their pants when they asked to use a restroom. Adams is among 86 current and former inmates of the Crowley County Correctional Facility in southeast Colorado who have sued its operator, Corrections Corp. of America. The inmates allege negligence on the part of prison staff leading up to the riot, use of excessive force during and after the violent outbreak, and inhumane treatment of prisoners who had nothing to do with the fracas. Bill Trine, a Boulder attorney representing the inmates, repeatedly charged Corrections Corp. of America with ignoring warnings in the days leading up to the riot. For example, he said, the transfer of 198 inmates from Washington state to Crowley County heightened tensions. He said that happened, in part, because the out-of-state prisoners resented the corresponding loss of privileges. Also contributing was resentment among Colorado prisoners who were paid substantially less for the work they did - $18.60 a month vs. $60 a month for Washington prisoners. Trine also made public documents compiled by the state's Office of Inspector General that showed prison officials were warned in the days before the riot that trouble was likely. Among the documents was a report from an addiction counselor who said she had been alerted by inmates that tensions had escalated and that "people were going to get hurt." The counselor filed a report with a superior and later told investigators that others also had alerted prison staff "with information from inmates who told them that there was going to be a riot." Those warnings, Trine said, were ignored. "The net result," he said, "was the riot did occur."

October 13, 2004 Rocky Mountain News
The staff of the privately operated Crowley County Correctional Facility was severely undermanned and too undertrained and inexperienced to control inmates on the evening of July 20, when hundreds erupted into a nightlong riot. So said the state Department of Corrections in a searing report Tuesday on the prison in Olney Springs, owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America with a contract to house inmates from Colorado and other states.  The prison had a uniformed staff of only 33 officers for its 1,122 inmates on the evening of the riot, a ratio of 34 inmates per officer. That compares with a ratio of five inmates per officer in Colorado's state-operated prisons. Corrections Corporation of America has not released a damage estimate for the prison, which it owns and must repair with its own funds. Repairs have not been completed and 30 percent of the prison remains closed. CCA must also reimburse the state $385,000 for the prison system's Special Operations Response Team and other state personnel and expenses in quelling the riot. Not even basic prison operational procedures were maintained at the prison, the report charged. The prison had failed to satisfy state prison officials' demands to create an emergency plan or maintain an emergency response team, the report stated. On the night of the riot, the prison was "not fully staffed," and some of its staff had been "on the job for two days or less."
Once the riot erupted, chaos reigned. Prison supervisors reported that the entire staff was accounted for, although two corrections officers were trapped inside the prison and sought safety in a segregation cell. The female librarian was stranded in the library with 37 inmates, who did not join the riot. A private prison corrections officer's pay is about two-thirds that of state prison officers - $1,818 per month, compared with $2,774 per month, and staff turnover is about twice the rate as in state prisons. CCA has told the state it maintains an approximately 8-to-1 inmate to corrections officer ratio, but it was far off that staffing strength on July 20. CONCLUSIONS • Turnover: High staff turnover and inexperience hampered response to emergencies. • Staff: Prison was not fully staffed at the time of the riot, and some employees had been on the job only two days or less. • Response: Prison staff's response to the initial incident was indecisive and failed to comply with orders from a state Department of Corrections official. • Drills: Emergency drills were rarely conducted. Prison staff failed to maintain a recommended percentage of emergency response team members. • Prisoners: Prison staff did not respond to inmate grievances in a timely manner. • Security: Fundamental security measures were not consistently followed.

October 13, 2004 Pueblo Chieftain
Administrators of the privately run Crowley County Correctional Facility knew or should have known about potential problems that led to a July 20 inmate riot, a new report revealed Tuesday. The Colorado Department of Corrections report on the riot said the 1,130-inmate facility, one of five private prisons in the state, lacked state-required equipment, failed to follow DOC regulations at times, had insufficiently trained guards and no adequate plan to deal with crisis situations. The 179-page report to Gov. Bill Owens revealed that: Prison management failed to comply with deficiencies and recommendations that DOC inspectors told them about before the riot. High staff attrition and inexperience contributed to a lack of ability to respond to emergencies. The prison failed to adhere to DOC-mandated menus. Fundamental security measures were not consistently followed. Construction materials used to build cells were too easily destroyed. The prison's initial response to the riot was indecisive. The report noted that the riot, which left scores injured but no deaths, was sparked by a number of factors, at least one of which was not the fault of the prison operators. Because the prison housed inmates from other states - Wyoming and Washington - there was a disparity in the monthly wage out-of-state inmates earned over Colorado prisoners.
" Buying power is strongest, therefore, among Washington and Wyoming inmates," according to the report, written by DOC prisons director Nolin Renfrow, legislative liaison Cherri Greco and prisons operations manager Anna Cooper. Additionally, in the six months before the riot, DOC inspectors - known as the private prison monitoring unit - cited numerous issues with the prison operators, including food preparation programs, accuracy and timeliness of reports and inadequate tracking of security threat intelligence. At one point during the riot, Renfrow ordered the prison to use chemical agents to disperse the inmates, but the prison delayed doing so because it was seeking approval from its corporate headquarters in Nashville. The report also revealed that the prison's level of emergency preparedness was lacking in several areas: It wasn't fully staffed. Some employees had been on staff for two days or less when the riot broke out. Because it had not developed an emergency preparedness plan to DOC standards, some prison guards and managers were unsure what to do. It rarely conducted riot drills. When one was conducted, a staff member unaware that a drill was under way "drew a weapon" on an inmate, the report said. "The prison riot of July 20 at the Crowley County Correctional Facility began with a disturbance which, in retrospect, was not responded to as quickly and efficiently as possible, thus developing into a riot. Some dynamics among the inmate population, perception that inmate complaints were not being heard, and use of force by CCCF staff likely all contributed to the onset of the incident."

September 22, 2004 Pueblo Chieftain
Part of the problem in managing rioting inmates at a private prison in Crowley County in July was that the facility had a 45 percent turnover rate in employees, state corrections officials told lawmakers Tuesday. A day after a Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman told The Pueblo Chieftain that DOC doesn't routinely track employment matters at private prisons, the DOC's director of prisons, Nolin Renfrow, told the legislative Joint Budget Committee that one of the things under investigation is the prison's high turnover rate.
DOC wants to know if that high rate contributed to the riot among 500 inmates July 20 at the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs, which is operated by Corrections Corp. of America. "We know that it was 45 percent at this particular facility," Renfrow told the six-member panel that requested a review of DOC's investigation of the riot. "Over the past few years, we have monitored their turnover as a whole. I think ours is around 8 to 10 percent. I think they have averaged 20 to 25 percent turnover in the past few years across CCA (in the state)." At one point before he arrived at the Crowley prison, Renfrow said he ordered staff workers to spray crowd-controlling chemicals into the main yard where many prisoners were rioting. "The word we received back (after giving the order) was that CCA was trying to get authorization to do that from their headquarters," Renfrow said. "Over the next two to three hours, I continued to repeat my orders as I was driving to the facility from Colorado Springs. Eventually, when our staff arrived, we did do that and the inmates were brought under control." "The (high turnover rate) generally means that tenured staff is generally low, and when tenured staff is very low, sometimes they have difficulties dealing with situations that are not typical of everyday operations." He said CCA's policy in dealing with riots is to "stand down and wait" for DOC officials to arrive to handle it. "I'm really concerned with what the counties are going to have to do with private prisons, what's expected of them and whether or not they really know what they're getting into when they get into a private prison situation," said Sen. Abel Tapia, D-Pueblo, who sat in on the briefing. "I know that (DOC) has the ability to get a team together to react to a violent situation. Shouldn't private prisons have that same capability to control their own facility?" Renfrow agreed, saying one of the recommendations he expects to make to the governor is to ensure that private prison guards are better trained and equipped to handle riots.

September 21, 2004 Pueblo Chieftain
Colorado Department of Corrections officials don't routinely keep records of staffing levels, turnover rates or salary information for private prisons housing state inmates, says DOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan. The staffing issues were raised following a July 20 inmate riot at Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs, where 400 to 500 prisoners held control at the prison for five hours, until DOC and law officers from several local and state agencies used tear gas and rubber pellets to regain control of the medium-security prison run by Corrections Corp. of America. Following the riot, The Pueblo Chieftain questioned Morgan about the private prison's staffing ratio, number of uniformed staffers on duty when the riot began and salary ranges for CCA employees. Morgan replied: a.. CCA's uniformed staff-to-inmate ratio was 1 to 7.9, while DOC's average staff-to-inmate ratio is 1 to 4.7.  b.. CCA had 33 uniformed staffers on duty when the riot began and the prison housed 1,125 inmates at the time. c.. A Crowley County correctional officer's pay averages $1,818 per month plus benefits. d.. DOC's monthly beginning correctional salary is $2,774, plus state benefits; (no average was given). Morgan provided the information to The Chieftain on July 23. But when private prison critic Ken Kopczynski of the Private Corrections Institute Inc., asked Morgan in August for the same information, along with some backup information such as shift logs, Morgan told Kopczynski that DOC did not have information on the staffing levels at the time of the riot, annual turnover rates or average salary ranges. Staff longevity was raised, according to Kopczynski, because one female Crowley employee stated on television that she was working in the central control center despite being on the job for only two days. Morgan, asked Monday about the discrepancy in her responses to Kopczynski and The Chieftain on staffing issues, said she obtained responses for The Chieftain in July from CCA, but added that DOC does not routinely keep staffing or other information on the Crowley prison as part of its ongoing monitoring of CCA. The reason, she said, is that DOC's contract with CCA requires the company only to maintain sufficient staffing; no specifics are spelled out.

August 8, 2004
As inmates at Crowley County Correctional Facility grew restless and agitated in the exercise yard on the evening of July 20, officers of the private company charged with managing the prison withdrew to regroup. "They ran," said inmate Robert Horn, serving five years for passing bad checks. "They just abandoned the place."  All but one.  As a peaceful protest devolved into arson and riot over five hours, prison librarian Linda Lyons kept sole watch over 37 male inmates. Although she radioed her location, her supervisors from the private Corrections Corporation of America made no move to retrieve her. They then failed to notify an elite anti-riot team from the Department of Corrections that she had been left behind.  While up to 500 inmates in a prison full of 1,100 killers, rapists, thieves and drug dealers brought their riot within one building of the library, Lyons was never harmed. She said the men with her talked, played chess and stayed clear of the melee while she maintained a calm demeanor.  "Showing fear would have upset the inmates," Lyons said.  A Department of Corrections review of Colorado's most destructive inmate uprising has found that the official response was dogged by slow decision-making and a lack of communication. A senior department official said CCA officials failed to respond promptly and with enough force, ignored an offer to negotiate, then left the librarian behind as they retreated to safe positions.  Beyond the questions about the response, inmates and a corrections officer from CCA say the company's managers had also failed to heed weeks of warnings about growing inmate unrest.  That unrest - over such typical inmate complaints as poor food, inequitable treatment of prisoners and a lack of access to prison officials - blossomed into a riot after corrections officers disciplined one unruly inmate. Officials with CCA, which manages the Crowley County prison through a contract with the department, dispute much of the department's criticisms. They insist they mounted an organized response to the rebellion, deployed chemical agents promptly and never ignored inmate grievances or a request that night to see the warden. On the contrary, said spokesman Steve Owen, company officials tried to negotiate an end to the uprising before the riot but were forced to withdraw as inmates grew increasingly angry.  "If there are things we didn't do right, we're going to own up to it," Owen said. "We're going to fix all that."  The company has already placed one Crowley County captain on administrative leave because his statements about the riot were "very inconsistent," Owen said Saturday.  "There is a concern about the truthfulness of his statement," he said. The department's investigation is not yet complete, but interviews with inmates, department officials and a guard at the prison provide an outline of the events that nearly killed one inmate and left the prison smoldering and partly uninhabitable.  Inmate allegedly beaten In the weeks before the riot, about 200 inmates from Washington state had been moved to Crowley County as CCA sought to maximize profits by filling every bed. At 10 a.m. the day of the riot, one of the Washington inmates refused to go to work, according to the department's director of prisons, Nolin Renfrow.  When the inmate struggled with an officer taking him to a disciplinary unit, several officers jerked the inmate to the ground, said inmate Fredrick Morris, 47, who is serving a life sentence for murder. Horn also witnessed the inmate's treatment.  "These other guards started pummeling him and kicking him," Horn said. "We'd just had enough, you know? To treat someone like an animal is not going to fly anymore."  CCA and the department are both investigating the complaint about the alleged beating of the inmate, whose name was not released. The department's inspector general says a videotape of the incident does not appear to show excessive force. But neither the department nor CCA has reached a conclusion on whether the corrections officer went too far.  Inmates thought he did. The boiling point  CCA is a Tennessee-based for-profit corporation with contracts to manage prisons and jails across the United States, including four here. Colorado pays the company $49 per inmate per day and requires the company to comply with all state and federal rules for inmate care.  The company and its supporters say they can profit from incarceration by employing efficient techniques lost on state bureaucracies.  Inmates at Crowley County said that quest for profit went too far at the prison.  Morris, who had worked as a cook at the prison, said he quit his job of three years because of the facility's poor food preparation practices. Staff were ordered to grind hot dogs for spaghetti sauce, use muffin mix in meatloaf, combine instant potatoes with pinto beans for burritos and put pork in soup intended for Jewish inmates, Morris said.  He said he complained about the practices to a CCA supervisor in March but nothing happened.  "The food has gotten worse," Morris said.  CCA officials said they had received no formal grievances about the food. The most recent inspection by the department, on June 29, found that the food served to inmates at Crowley County was considered "good" by department standards in nearly every category.  In volunteer prison surveys for the department, Crowley County inmates in October rated food they received to be lower in quality across the board than prisoners at department prisons.  But Owen said CCA by contract serves the exact same menus as the department.  Prisoners have not filed any grievances about food quality, he said.  Inmates had a variety of other complaints against Crowley County.  Colorado inmates were upset that they were paid only 60 cents a day for doing the same work as inmates transferred to the prison from Washington a week earlier. Washington pays inmates $3 per day for work, and CCA is bound by contract to follow Washington policies when keeping that state's inmates, Owen said. Colorado lets CCA pay local inmates less.  All of that boiled over July 20. A Crowley County correctional officer said inmates had been talking for weeks about an uprising.  "I was told about it," said the officer, whose name is being withheld. "They said it wasn't going to be more than two months, at the most. It wasn't even that long. I was told this by several different inmates."  "They took off running" On the night of July 20, correctional officers opened a gate connecting the east recreational yard with the west about 7 p.m. so inmates could play softball in the west yard.  Instead of a handful, hundreds streamed into the west yard, said inmate Terry Poole, serving life for kidnapping.  Several Washington inmates asked correctional officers to speak with Warden Brent Crouse about their grievances, Renfrow said.  Crowley County security chief Richard Selman said he never heard about the requests. Owen, the CCA spokesman, said the company's investigation has determined that an inmate asked to speak with a "supervisor" - not the warden.  After the request was relayed to supervisors, a shift captain was unable to locate the inmate who made the request, Owen said. At that point, the captain became concerned for the safety of the prison staff and they withdrew from the yard - effectively relinquishing control to the inmates.  "They took off running, and they left the female employees behind," said William Morris, another Crowley County Correctional Facility inmate.  CCA reported the prisoner rebellion to department officials, and Renfrow said he urged CCA to immediately use chemical agents to push inmates away from the living units and put down the uprising.  But, Renfrow said, CCA officials told department monitors that they needed approval from their Nashville headquarters before deploying tear gas.  CCA spokesman Owen says the company's officers did not need approval from Nashville and did respond promptly. In a written response to questions, he said "chemical agents had already been disbursed by facility staff at approximately 8:20 p.m." That would be before Renfrow said he asked for its use.  Regardless of when the first gas was used, it came much later than inmates expected and gave ringleaders an opportunity to organize real mayhem.  "If they would have just went back, sat on the towers and shot tear gas from up there, there probably would have been less of a riot," William Morris said. "Everybody would have went home. They would have dispersed."  Librarian kept her cool As inmates began setting the prison facilities ablaze, librarian Lyons, 56, ordered the men in the library back to their cells. They implored her not to force them out into the yard, where other inmates were clearly gearing up for a fight.  Before long, fires were burning in front of each living unit and the greenhouse was burning. In the yard, scores of inmates used filing cabinets and doors as shields as they approached officers.  They barricaded doors with soda machines they lit on fire. Unbreakable windows were blown out, and inmates were using shards of glass as shanks. The amount of damage still has not been calculated, but it may approach $1 million.  Renfrow said he asked CCA if all employees had made it safely out of the prisoner-controlled grounds. He said he was mistakenly told they had.  If he had known Lyons was still in harm's way, he said, he would have immediately ordered officers to get her. Inmates broke into the shop next to the library, said Nathan Walter, commander of the department's Special Operations Response Team, or SORT.  Still, Lyons, a second-year CCA employee, didn't fret, and she said she is not upset with CCA for failing to dispatch a team to rescue her. In her mind, she didn't need rescuing.  "I felt safe where I was," she said.  It was 10 p.m. before the SORT team had moved in to retake the first of the dorms. Outnumbered by dozens of prisoners to each one, SORT members used rubber pellets and "triple chaser" tear gas bundles that separated and exploded to push back inmates who were hurling rocks, sticks, furniture and flaming Molotov cocktails.  In the aftermath, they learned that while Lyons was unharmed, a group of as many as 15 inmates had gone on the prowl in the prison to attack sex offenders and men suspected of being snitches. The man hurt worst during the riot, burglar Rudy Lujan, was attacked by a mob of maybe 15 inmates who believed he had snitched on inmates to the guards, Horn said. They beat him, stabbed him, threw him over the railing of the second-floor tier of cells and tossed a microwave oven onto his limp frame.  He was hospitalized in critical condition, and officials have not offered an update since.  The prison can be repaired, but if CCA's policies don't change, it will happen again, Horn predicted.  "Those people (in Olney Springs) need to understand that this is going to occur over and over again," he said. "The population in that area is seriously lucky. At any point, (the inmates) could have just turned to that fence and mowed that fence down. Imagine five or six hundred crazed individuals running into Olney Springs."  (Denver Post)

August 4, 2004
Family members of inmate Rudy Lujan sat around his mother's dinning room table recently, looking at pictures from his childhood and worrying about his well-being now.  Oh, the stories Juliana Lujan has about her 32-year-old son who was beaten nearly to death after a riot broke out two weeks ago at the Crowley County Correctional Facility east of Pueblo. Rudy Lujan of Greeley is still hospitalized from the injuries. His parole hearing is today.  Lujan was stabbed, beaten with a cinder block and forced to jump from the second floor by a gang of men on July 20 when inmates rioted, torched and broke pipelines that flooded the prison.  Juliana said in the past year her son has repeatedly asked for protection, but no one took the convicted felon seriously. He told his family that he had been jumped, "cheap-shotted" from behind and threatened several times.  He was at an undisclosed hospital in Pueblo where guards watched over him as he recovered from a coma, a bruised body, blackened eyes, stiff neck, several stab wounds and carnage torn from his arm by the cinder block beating. It took him nearly dying to be taken seriously, Juliana said. Lujan was recently moved to an infirmary, she said.  (Greeley Tribune)

July 30, 2004
More than two dozen Airway Heights inmates currently housed at a Colorado corrections facility will remain there until the Washington State Department of Corrections completes its investigation into last week's riot. Criteria for selecting inmates to send out of state include time left to serve, health issues, behavior and how often they are visited by relatives. Ultimately though, the private out-of-state prisons get to choose which inmates it wants to bring in.  (KXLY News 4)

July 29, 2004
For more than two hours, Tammera Bravo's son, an inmate at Crowley Correctional Facility, delivered "minute-by-minute terror" over the phone as prisoners smashed their surroundings.  "He said, 'It's on Mom. Those prisoners from Washington are refusing to come out of the yard.' " Washington inmates at the private prison in Olney Springs, about 80 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, had reached a boiling point because of their recent transfer and because they didn't like their new cells, Bravo said.  Five and a half hours later, it was over. All in all, as many as 400 of the prison's more than 1,100 inmates had been involved. Two of five cellblocks were trashed, at least one control room had been breached, fires had burned, and 13 inmates were injured.  Ken Kopczynski, executive director of the Tallahassee, Fla.-based Private Corrections Institute -- which has been extremely critical of privatized prisons -- said the transfers hurt inmates' ties to family and friends. Many families, he said, are too poor to afford regular visits and inmates are left with little to look forward to and no life outside prison walls.  Kopczynski says it was no coincidence that, a day after the Crowley County prison incident, 28 Colorado inmates rebelled at a CCA private prison in Tutwiler, Miss., setting fire to mattresses and clothing.  "You're importing inmates from Washington and Wyoming to Colorado, and then you're shipping Colorado inmates off to Mississippi," Kopczynski said. "Does anyone see the irony here?"  In 2002, former state Sen. Penfield Tate, as he had in years prior, introduced unsuccessful legislation that would have prevented Colorado inmates from being transferred out of state. Tate became worried after incidents occurred in the 1990s similar to the one in Crowley County.  "We've seen a history of it," Tate said.  At CCA-owned private prisons, the guard-to-inmate ratios are far lower than at state-operated Department of Corrections facilities. The state's average ratio is one guard for less than five inmates, while the for-profit CCA averages one guard for nearly eight inmates. Morgan said the vast difference in ratios is justified because the state tends to deal with more difficult inmates.  However, critics like Kopczynski note that salaries for private prison guards tend to be much lower. At the Crowley County prison, guards make an average of $1,818 a month, compared to state guard salaries that start at $2,774 a month.  Because private prisons tend to pay guards less, companies grapple with higher turnover, meaning fewer experienced guards are available to handle complex inmate issues, Kopczynski said. Some guards, he said, don't last long enough to complete their training, which can take months. Others stay just a few years, he added.  (Colorado Springs Independent)

July 29, 2004
The state Department of Corrections will accept no more out-of-state prisoners at Colorado's four private prisons while an investigation unravels the cause of a riot at one of them, an agency spokeswoman said Tuesday.  (Rocky Mountain News)

July 28, 2004
State Sen. Ken Kester on Tuesday defended the private operators of Crowley County Correctional Facility, rocked by a riot last week.  Kester, R-Las Animas, questioned statements made by Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, in the wake of a riot that caused major damage to the prison, and praised Corrections Corp. of America, which operates Crowley and three other private prisons in the state.  The day following the riot, McFadyen told The Pueblo Chieftain her attempts to require the state to reveal the actual state cost of housing prisoners at private prisons was rejected during the latest term of the Legislature.  She said that on three different occasions, she asked for a breakdown of the cost - not just the per diem rate paid to private prisons, but also cost for medical care for inmates, transportation, escapes, riot control, case management and some training of private prison staff, which the state pays.  "I am not trying to be belligerent. I am just trying to assess the information in a format that can be compared side-by-side with the state numbers. If that information is available it has not been made available to me," McFadyen said.  Kester defended private prisons, saying that they save the state an estimated $50 million in construction costs per private prison, and it also costs taxpayers less to maintain inmates in private prisons.  Kester, who was a Bent County commissioner when the county negotiated a deal with CCA for the Bent County Correctional Facility, said that the Bent County prison has been helpful to the community.  (Pueblo Chieftain)

July 27, 2004
A riot that injured more than a dozen inmates and caused millions of dollars in damage to a prison run by a Tennessee company last week prompted the state to temporarily stop accepting out-of-state inmates, an official says.  (AP)

July 25, 2004
Staffing and pay at the Crowley County private prison, where inmates rioted Tuesday night, is roughly half of that at state prisons, a Department of Corrections spokeswoman said Friday.  The DOC's Alison Morgan worked with the Crowley prison owner, Corrections Corp. of America, to produce the statement in response to questions submitted by The Pueblo Chieftain.  CCA's uniformed staff-to-inmate ratio is 1-7.9. DOC's average staff-to-inmate ratio is 4.7-1. She noted that DOC's ratio is affected by the needs in DOC's high-custody facilities and special-needs inmates.  CCA has based its salaries on the Crowley County area's prevailing wages. The range for a correctional officer at Crowley County is $1,557 to $2,335 a year, with an average of $1,818 per month plus benefits. DOC's beginning salary for a correctional officer is $2,774 per month, plus state benefits. No average figure was stated.  Colorado, like most states, participates in the Federal Interstate Compact Agreement that provides for the exchange of inmates between states. "For example, if DOC has an inmate that cannot be incarcerated in a Colorado facility, we can transfer that inmate to an accepting state. We then must accept an inmate from that state in exchange." It was not clear whether DOC reviews the backgrounds of prisoners before they're accepted into the state's private prisons.  Crowley County had 33 uniformed staffers on duty when the riot began Tuesday night. The prison housed 1,125 inmates, according to DOC officials.  There have been reports that Crowley staffers feared there would be strife with the arrival of Washington state inmates. Ninety-nine Washington inmates arrived on July 2; another 99 on July 9.  (Pueblo Chieftain)

July 25, 2004
Details of a sexual harassment lawsuit settlement between an Edmond company that once operated a Colorado private prison and three women who used to work there aren't being released.  The women, former guards, filed the federal lawsuit seeking more than $10 million from Dominion Correctional Services and three managers.  The former guards alleged that female employees were coerced numerous times in 2001 and 2002 into sexual activity by male managers who condoned sexual misconduct among workers.  Former guard Lucilla Gigliotti alleged that she became pregnant after the prison's former chief of security, Ronald McCall, went to her home and raped her.  McCall, in court filings, denied he sexually assaulted her and denied he "engaged in any conduct which violated the constitutional rights" of Gigliotti and the other two women, Pamela Johnson and Lt. Jennifer Stalder.  McCall had been forced from a previous job at the Colorado Department of Corrections because "he had an extensive history of engaging in sexual discrimination and harassment," the three women alleged.  Johnson alleged a guard raped her at the prison despite her having previously pleaded with Vigil not to assign the guard and her to the same work area.  (AP)

July 23, 2004
A man who suffered the worst injuries during Tuesday's riot at the Crowley County Correctional Facility called his sister after fires broke out, saying he feared for his life and that she should call police.   Rudy Lujan, 32, who is serving time for burglary and drug charges, had to shout because the commotion in the private prison was so loud, said his sister, who would give only her first name, Bonnie, citing fear of retaliation.  "He said a riot was going on, and all the guards were so scared they went on the roof," she said. "The prisoners had already taken control. He was scared. He told me, 'If anything happens to me, tell everybody I love them."'  A prison official called Lujan's family in Greeley on Wednesday to tell them that he had been hospitalized with multiple stab wounds, said his other sister, Debbie Segura. On Thursday, prison officials reported that Lujan was breathing on his own and was in serious but stable condition, according to the family.  Lujan had been having problems with gang members in the private prison in Olney Springs, his family said. He had told them stories of being jumped from behind and "cheap-shotted" more than once.  His family believes Lujan had been refusing gang members' attempts to recruit him.  (Denver Post)

July 23, 2004
Prison officials at the Crowley County Correctional Facility foresee a complex repair project after the prison was rocked by a riot Tuesday night.  The prison is one of four in the state owned and operated by Corrections Corp. of America. At least one-third of its 1,147 inmates rioted Tuesday and two of the five housing units were rendered uninhabitable.  Inmates set three fires, damaged three other living units and destroyed the vocational greenhouse.  They also smashed furniture and televisions, destroyed desks and bunks, ripped sinks and toilets from the walls and intentionally triggered fire alarms to drench everything in the buildings.  (Pueblo Chieftain)

July 23, 2004
Inmates at the Crowley County prison began telling their families as long as a month ago that tensions at the facility were high and that an uprising was imminent, two parents said Thursday.  One Denver mother said her son told her that in early June word began to spread that the Crowley County Correctional Facility was going to accept prisoners from Washington state. When the imported inmates began arriving about three weeks ago, several inmates began complaining to the guards, she said.  Colorado inmates complained that some of the out-of-state prisoners were being mixed in with them, which was creating a lot of tension, she said. Residents and officials from nearby Olney Springs said guards who visit the town's businesses or live in the community had told them in recent weeks that they expected violence at the prison.  (Rocky Mountain News)

July 23, 2004
Although state lawmakers have carried out four audits of state prison programs since 1999, they have never audited the private company in charge of the southern Colorado prison engulfed by a riot Tuesday.  The Crowley County prison that erupted in flames is run by Corrections Corporation of America. A state senator said Thursday the state might want to take a closer look at its finances.  "We can follow the state's money and audit that," said Sen. Norma Anderson, R-Lakewood, a longtime audit committee member. "Perhaps we should do more along that line. We have looked at the bank accounts for the prisoners that are held in the private prisons, but we have never audited security there."  No one could estimate the damage from Tuesday's melee, but state officials insisted those costs would be borne by CCA.  The state also intends to bill the company for its costs in rushing more than 100 correctional officers and other help to the scene to help quell the uprising, as well as the expense of the investigation - a cost that could run as high as $150,000.  And at a news conference in Pueblo, Frank Smith of the anti- private prison group Private Corrections Institute said that "Olney Springs came apart at the seams, and it was no big surprise."  Smith, along with Brian Dawe, executive director of Corrections U.S.A., a nonprofit group that represents the nation's public corrections officers, said private prisons do not protect the public.  "This isn't about public safety for the private prisons, it's about the money," Dawe said.  Smith said he talked to some of the corrections officers at Crowley and they expressed concerns about understaffing, low pay and inadequate training. Dawe said private prison guards receive 30 percent less training than those at federal facilities.  Smith said he was also told that Colorado prisoners might have started the riot because they were not happy about what they considered special treatment that prisoners from Washington state were receiving.  Dawe, a former prison guard, said moving inmates out of state and away from their families is bad for the prison and the public. "I guess Colorado doesn't have enough problems, so they need to import some more," he said.  (Rocky Mountain News)

July 22, 2004
After an inmate's being denied a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich helped sparked a riot at the medium-security Crowley County Correctional Facility in 1999, state prison officials concluded that guards at the private prison had not been properly trained.  John Suthers, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections at the time, later vowed that the state's future contracts with private prisons would emphasize "proper training." Five years later, after another riot at the prison - now run by a different company, Corrections Corp. of America - some critics are raising the training issue again, though DOC officials say they don't believe it's a problem. "The people that they're getting employed there - people who have never been in law enforcement, people who have never been in corrections - they put them through a training period that they say is effective, but it's not," former Crowley County correctional officer Jennifer Stalder said Wednesday. "You're dealing with felons, and they don't play."  Stalder recently settled a wrongful-termination suit against Dominion Correctional Services, which ran the prison before CCA. Stalder never worked for CCA, but she has friends and relatives who work there who have told her the training programs have not changed, she said.  And though some wondered Wednesday if state budget cuts could have led to Tuesday's riot, that is unlikely, said Republican Rep. Brad Young of Lamar, chairman of the legislature's Joint Budget Committee.  But Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo, said she's concerned that privately run prisons aren't cheaper than state-run prisons. She points out that the costs for medical care, transportation, clothing, case management, escapes and riot control all fall back on state and local government.  (Denver Post)

July 22, 2004
State Department of Corrections officials said Wednesday that Tuesday's Crowley County prison riot began with 100 to 150 inmates refusing to return from a recreational yard to their housing unit.  As a result of damage from the uprising, more than half the inmates have been moved elsewhere.  The Olney Springs prison is privately operated by Corrections Corp. of America, but state employees of the DOC and officers from several area sheriffs' departments helped bring the riot under control about five hours after it began.  DOC officials said the investigation of the cause of the riot is ongoing. Department spokeswoman Allison Morgan said, "one factor may be gang-related," but Executive Director Joe Ortiz said later, "We have no special information that this is gang-related."  Morgan said the riot began at 7:30 p.m., turning into a scene of mayhem as inmates used weight-lifting equipment to tear up housing units. They started three fires, leaving two of the prison's five housing units uninhabitable from fire and water damage and another unit damaged. Other property was damaged or destroyed, and there were a few instances of inmates attacking one another.  CCA staffers retreated until the DOC special operations team and emergency response teams from five state prisons arrived. Backup officers from Pueblo, Fowler, Rocky Ford and the Colorado State Patrol also were sent to assist with the crisis. DOC will put a moratorium on transferring out-of-state inmates into Crowley County for now.  (The Pueblo Chieftain)

July 22, 2004
A Colorado lawmaker whose district includes eight state-run prisons said Wednesday the riot at the private Crowley County facility raises critical questions about the safety and cost-effectiveness of private prisons. Rep. Buffie McFadyen, D-Pueblo West, said she was alarmed when she first got word of the rioting and the possibility that inmates and guards might have been seriously hurt or killed.  She intends to press her colleagues during the 2005 session to take a much closer look at the state's contracts with private prisons.  She had raised the alarm on the House floor this year during a debate over a bill pushed by legislative budget writers that would make it easier to seek competitive proposals from private prison providers.  "It's not just the cost," she said. "My concern also is for the safety of the general public, as well as the people working in, and even those confined in, these facilities.  "This is the second riot at the same facility since 1999. These prisons are built in rural areas, where there is little law enforcement to help out. They may not have sufficient manpower themselves, and they may be poorly trained and equipped."  But Rep. Brad Young, R-Lamar, chairman of the legislature's budget-writing committee, noted that prisons - both state and private - are dangerous places. He said he wants to see a full report on what happened.  "It sounds like a full-scale riot broke out really fast," Young said. "You do everything you can to prevent that kind of thing. It doesn't mean they weren't doing a good job."  Young said constructing prisons is "a huge cost" and added that with the economic downturn that occurred a little more than two years ago, "the state couldn't afford to keep up with the inmate population increases we've seen."  "There definitely is some economy for doing it through the private sector," he said. But McFadyen said she hoped what occurred would help bring a better awareness of the true cost to the state and local governments where private prisons are located.  "As a state legislator, I have frequently questioned the hard cost of contracting with private prisons," she said. "No one can give me an exact amount. The question is, are we risking the safety of the public and is it really cheaper? We must have answers to those questions."  (Rocky Mountain News)

July 22, 2004
State prison officials sifted through a stunning swath of destruction at the Crowley County Correctional Facility on Wednesday, still uncertain what caused an overnight riot by more than 400 inmates.  Officials on Wednesday discounted reports that the riot was a "turf war" between Colorado inmates and 190 prisoners who arrived from Washington state about three weeks ago.  But guards had privately confided to townspeople since the Washington transfer that they feared something was brewing.  The Washington inmates were angry over their transfer more than 1,000 miles away from their families.  Whatever problem had been smoldering inside the privately operated prison 40 miles east of Pueblo erupted violently about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.  More than one-third of the prison's 1,147 inmates joined in the 51/2-hour riot.  They set at least three fires, smashed everything in two of the prison's five living units, damaged its three other living units, and resisted more than 150 guards using tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the outbreak.  Thirteen inmates were injured. One suffered multiple stab wounds in one of two inmate-on-inmate assaults. Four inmates remained hospitalized Tuesday, none with life-threatening injuries, said Department of Corrections Director Joe Ortiz.  None of the prison staff was injured.  On Wednesday, the inmates were being held under 24-hour lockdown in cells and improvised holding areas throughout the prison.  At the height of the riot, inmates set fires in two cell houses and the vocational greenhouse, and proceeded to tear them apart, throwing and smashing furniture, destroying desks and bunks, ripping sinks and toilets from the walls, splintering television sets and setting off fire alarms to drench everything in the buildings.  Some inmates used steel weights and dumbbells from the exercise yard to smash doors and windows, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan.  "Living Unit 2 is not habitable. Living Unit 1 is not as severe, but it is destroyed," Morgan said.  The destruction ruined 600 inmate cells, leaving prison officials to find other places to house them. About 300 were being moved to a newly completed housing unit at the prison, but 300 were being transferred Wednesday to other state prisons.  (Rocky Mountain News)

July 21, 2004
Inmates at a nearby private prison rioted Tuesday, prompting law enforcement agencies from around Southern Colorado to mobilize in an effort to quell the uprising.  Crowley County Commissioner Matt Heimerich told The Pueblo Chieftain that local sheriff's department responded to the medium security Crowley County Correctional Facility at about 8 p.m. with every available officer from its force of nine people, along with all three ambulances in Crowley County.  By 10 p.m. the rioting apparently had escalated and reached a threshold of serious concern, as the Pueblo County Sheriff's Department's SORT team and up to 20 members of the SWAT team from the Pueblo Police Department were deployed to join in suppressing the situation. The Fowler Police Department, Otero County Sheriff's Department, Rocky Ford Police Department and the Colorado State Patrol also joined the effort.  Witnesses said smoke billowed from three separate locations in the prison - one in the yard and two inside structures - and the smell of tear gas was thick. Multiple witnesses also reported hearing gunshots from inside the prison walls.  A female guard toting a rifle was stationed at the main entrance to the prison and turned away several curious onlookers from the surrounding rural area. Heimerich said he had been told the riot was being driven by inmates from the state of Washington, who were recently transferred to the prison in Olney Springs. The prison recently contracted to retain between 150 and 200 inmates from Washington.  (Pueblo Chieftain)

July 21, 2004
At least 100 inmates rioted Tuesday evening and set small fires inside the walls of a privately run prison in Crowley County. Scores of law-enforcement officials from all over the state raced to Olney Springs to help quell the disturbance.  The inmates rioted in the yard and in some portions of the interior of the Crowley County Correctional Facility in Olney Springs, Allison Morgan, Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman, said early this morning. Morgan said she did not know where in the prison the fires were set.  (Rocky Mountain news)

Florence Correctional Center
Florence, Arizona

October 24, 2009 Casa Grande Dispatch
An inmate at a Corrections Corporation of America prison has been sentenced to a long prison term for aggravated assault on a corrections officer with two prior felony convictions. Elijah Stroman, 26, was sentenced Oct. 6 by Pinal County Superior Court Commissioner Craig Raymond to the presumptive term of five years in prison, with credit for 87 days served, after pleading guilty. The term is to be served concurrently with a sentence from Washington state. The offense occurred May 19, 2008. Restitution is to be determined.

September 30, 2008 AP
More than 100 inmates are being transferred back to Washington, after serving time at private prisons in Arizona. The Corrections Department says the return of 110 inmates from Arizona is the largest single-day transfer of out-of-state inmates this year. They were sent to Arizona because of crowding in Washington prisons. But an expansion in the state prison system has freed up some space. Seventy-six of the inmates will be sent to the Washington Corrections Center in Mason County, and 34 will be sent to the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County. The number of inmates housed outside the state is now 978. Earlier this year, nearly 1,200 Washington inmates were in other states.

December 22, 2007 East Valley Tribune
Arizona for the first time is using a state law that allows police agencies to recover costs in capturing people who escape from private prisons. The tab is $25,000 for the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s part in the capture of two murderers who escaped from the Florence Correctional Center in September, according to Phil Case, DPS budget officer. Case said he has asked other agencies, including the Florence and Casa Grande police departments, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and the Arizona Department of Corrections, to figure out what their costs were. “We’re fully aware of the statutory requirements,” said Steve Owen, spokesman for Correctional Corporation of America, a company based in Nashville, Tenn., that runs the Florence prison. “We certainly very much appreciated the assistance.” The company has five prisons in Pinal County housing about 9,200 men, and another is planned. Owen said there have only been two other escapes from Correctional Corporation of America prisons in Pinal County since 1997, and each was captured within minutes. A Pinal County Sheriff’s Office deputy caught Kollin Folsom, 24, within hours after he and Roy Townsend, 37, overpowered a correctional officer as they worked on a cleaning crew at the prison. They then used a ladder to get over the razor wire fence. Deputy U.S. Marshals found Townsend near Spokane, Wash., about a month later. Both men were from Washington, where state prisons are overcrowded. States often send inmates to private prisons in other states when their prisons are over capacity. There are more than 1,700 prisoners from California, Washington, the U.S. Marshal’s Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement housed at the Florence Center. When Folsom and Townsend got out, dozens of officers set up roadblocks and went door-to-door. Dogs tried to sniff out the escapees, and helicopters searched from the air. When the initial manhunt ended, detectives continued to search for Townsend. State law requires private prisons to pay either $10,000 per escaped prisoner or the “actual capture costs per escapee, whichever is more.”

October 17, 2007 Arizona Republic
A convicted murderer who escaped a Florence prison last month has been reportedly caught in his home state of Washington. Detective Walt Hunter of the Florence Police Department said in an e-mail Wednesday morning that Roy Townsend, 37, who escaped with Kollin Folsom, 24, from Florence Correctional Center on Sept. 17, had been apprehended in Spokane. In the e-mail, Hunter said he has few details other than Townsend was captured. Townsend and Folsom escaped Sept. 17 after overpowering a correctional officer as they worked on an evening cleaning crew at the Florence Correctional Center, then used ladders to scale razor wire-topped fencing. Folsom, also a convicted murderer, was apprehended several hours after the two men escaped. Townsend was convicted of arson, theft and murder in Mason County, Washington, and had nearly 50 years still to serve. He was among 506 Washington inmates at Florence.

October 10, 2007 KOMO TV
A family here wants an explanation from the state as to why their son's killer sent to a private, out of state prison in Arizona? Eleven years ago, Gerald Harkins was shot twice, killed and left in the woods. He was just 18. A few miles from Shelton in the family's living room, there are old newspaper clippings, including one that says: "Killer Gets 66 Years in Prison." But three weeks ago, Roy Townsend and another killer puts ladders against a prison fence in Arizona. One was recaptured, but Townsend, convicted of killing Gerald Harkins is still at large. "To me, it's like being right back where we were 10 years ago," said Gerald's father, Larry. "Waiting and hunting." Audrey and Larry Harkins had just begun to heal. Some of the pictures and poems still bring tears. Two years ago, Audrey started putting together a photo album as a memory book. She never expected a prison break and fear. "He needs to be behind bars to protect every young adult," she said. "You don't know what would make him turn." To them, their son's killer is more than a wanted poster. He's a nightmare returned. And they can't understand why the State of Washington moved a murderer into a medium security private prison. "I don't understand it," Larry Harkins said. "To me, when he was convicted in the state, a judge gave him a penalty and the state of Washington was supposed to carry that penalty out. He was put in their care, and, you know what, they blew it." The Harkins say they have a meeting Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen to talk about their son and a prison break. The Harkins may worry, but police in Shelton and Mason County say a fugitive would have to be crazy to come back. After all, they say everybody knows everybody and everything that's going on. In the meantime, Larry and Audrey say they want two things: Townsend's arrest and changes in the state's prison practices.

September 21, 2007 AP
A convicted murderer who escaped from a private prison in Florence earlier this week is still on the loose. Pinal County sheriff's spokesman Mike Minter says a nationwide law enforcement alert is out for 37-year-old Roy Townsend, but so far he's eluded capture. Townsend escaped Monday from the Florence Correctional Center with another inmate, who was captured hours later. Townsend was convicted of arson, theft and murder in Mason County, Washington and had nearly 50 years still to serve. He was among 506 Washington inmates at Florence. Minter says sheriff's investigators plan to meet with U.S. Marshals officials to try to come up with ideas on how to track down Townsend.

September 18, 2007 Arizona Republic
Authorities issued a statewide alert but scaled back their search Tuesday for a convicted murderer who escaped from a privately run prison in Florence. Florence Police Detective Walt Hunter said there have been reported sightings of 37-year-old Roy Townsend. Townsend and 24-year-old Kollin Folsom escaped from the Florence Correctional Center by overpowering a correctional officer as they worked on an evening cleaning crew. They escaped about early Monday by climbing ladders over razor wire-topped fencing about 14 feet high. Folsom was caught several hours later. Hunter said the search for Townsend has been cut back to agencies in the immediate area but a statewide "attempt to locate" alert has gone to law enforcement agencies. "We're working with several other agencies, even out of state agencies," Hunter said Tuesday, "and we're following up on a bunch of leads and tips today." Authorities searched across the town and nearby desert areas Monday. "Police officers are going door to door. We have roving patrols. We have air surveillance. We have dog units," Hunter said Monday. "There's just so many locations he could have gone, you can't really pinpoint one direction. We're just doing an exhaustive search of the whole area," Hunter said. "Wherever (Townsend) is at, hopefully we're going to catch him." Townsend and Folsom were working as part of an evening cleaning crew when they attacked a guard and tied him down, according to a release from the Corrections Corporation of America, which operates the prison.

18, 2007 Arizona Republic
Two convicted murderers serving time at a private prison in Florence overcame a guard and then used ladders to slip over prison fences early Monday, authorities said. One of them, Kollin Folsom, 24, was caught by Pinal County authorities at 7:23 a.m. Monday morning. The other, Roy Townsend, 37, is still on the loose. About 1 a.m., Folsom and Townsend escaped from the Florence Correctional Center. Detective Walt Hunter of the Florence Police Department said the inmates took ladders, climbed on the prison roof and scaled two fences. Television footage of the prison showed at least one of the ladders leaning against a fence. Folsom was captured in a two-story building about three miles south of the prison, Hunter said. Hunter said both inmates were serving homicide sentences and were from Washington state. Both inmates were on night cleaning duty when they escaped. They overtook and tied down a male correctional officer before they gained access to the ladders from the maintenance room, officials said. The prison is on lock down, officials said. A “full-scale” search by the Pinal County Sheriff's Department and Florence Police Department, including K-9 tracking dogs, is still underway. The U.S. Marshals Service and other law enforcement agencies are also assisting in the search, Hunter said. “We're just doing an exhaustive search of the whole area,” he said. “Wherever (Townsend) is at, hopefully we're going to catch him.” Towsend is described as a White male, with black hair and brown eyes, 5 feet 11 inches, and weighing about 160 pounds. He is said to be wearing dark blue pants and a white t-shirt or dark blue top, officials said. Authorities warn anyone who might see Towsend not to approach him, but to call 911. Folsom was convicted of first-degree murder for the stabbing of Clinton Williams, his girlfriend's father, in November 1999 in Washougal, Wash. Townsend, 37, was convicted of arson, theft and murder in the shooting of Gerald Harkins in Mason County, Wash. Townsend's release date is Sept. 5, 2054.

September 17, 2007 East Valley Tribune
Two convicted murderers working on the night cleaning crew overtook and tied up a correctional officer, and escaped from Florence Correctional Center early Monday. Kollin Folsom, 24, and Roy Townsend, 37, are prisoners from Washington who have been serving time in the private prison for two and three years, respectively. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office and Florence Police Department are looking for the men, who escaped about 1 a.m. Folsom is white, 5 feet, 9 inches, 160 pounds, brown hair and brown eyes with no identifiable physical marks. Townsend is white, 5 feet, 11 inches, 160 pounds, black hair, brown eyes, with no identifiable physical marks, according to a press release.

North Fork Correctional Facility, Sayre, Oklahoma
May 24, 2008 The News Tribune
Four Washington prison inmates who were shipped out of state because of overcrowding are under investigation for allegedly assaulting prison workers in Oklahoma on Thursday. The attacks took place at the North Fork Correctional Facility in Oklahoma, a private prison run by the Corrections Corporation of America. Washington has 304 of its inmates serving time in that prison, part of the 1,160 total number of inmates who are now out of state, said Washington prison official Gary Bohon. A prison officer and sergeant were injured, treated at a hospital and released, said a CCA spokeswoman. The four offenders were placed in segregation. Washington also has offenders housed in Arizona and Minnesota to prevent overcrowding in Washington’s 15 prisons, where the population is more than 17,000, including work-release centers. Washington’s Department of Corrections plans to bring back a small number of offenders in the next six to eight weeks, Bohon said. And the state remains on track to bring back all of the out-of-state inmates by the end of 2009. That’s when a bigger prison at Coyote Ridge in Eastern Washington is expected to be fully operational. Bohon said the four inmates could be sent back to Washington or could face local charges as a result of the attacks.

Northwest Detention Center
Tacoma, Washington
GEO Group (formerly Correctional Services Corporation)
May 28, 2022 oag.ca.gov

AG coalition files amicus in GEO wage lawsuit. Attorney General Bonta Leads Multistate Coalition in Defense of State Minimum Wage Protections for Employees of Federal Contractors Press Release Attorney General Bonta Leads Multistate Coalition in Defense.

 agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov Pushes back on efforts by for-profit prison operator to evade minimum wage laws

OAKLAND - California Attorney General Rob Bonta today led a coalition of 16 attorneys general in an amicus brief in defense of state minimum wage protections for employees of federal contractors in Washington v. GEO Group. The case centers around a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the State of Washington challenging GEO Group, Inc.'s (GEO) failure to pay state minimum wages to individuals who worked for GEO during their confinement to GEO's private, for-profit detention facility while awaiting the outcome of civil immigration proceedings. In the friend-of-the-court brief, the coalition highlights the critical importance of state minimum wage protections, pushes back on GEO's efforts to evade broadly applicable wage and hour laws, and urges the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to affirm the lower court's judgment. "Everyone deserves fair and sufficient pay for a day's work," said Attorney General Bonta. "Doing business with the federal government isn't a green light to shirk generally applicable labor protections. Minimum wage laws protect the dignity of work and the financial security of working people across the nation. I respectfully ask the Ninth Circuit to apply the law equally. At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to fight for the rights of workers everywhere." In 2017, the State of Washington and individual plaintiffs filed lawsuits against GEO challenging its failure to pay the state minimum wage to civil immigration detainees who worked for the company while confined to its privately-owned facility in Tacoma. For years, GEO paid these workers $1 per day - well below Washington's minimum wage, which ranged between $7.35 and $13.69 during the years when GEO relied on civil detainee labor to run its facility. In 2021, a federal jury determined GEO violated Washington's minimum wage laws and ordered the company to pay all its workers at least the state minimum wage. Despite the decision, GEO continues to assert that, as a federal contractor, it should not have to comply with the state's broadly applicable wage laws. In the amicus brief, the coalition makes it clear that selling goods or services to the federal government does not place a private employer beyond the reach of a state's minimum wage or other wage and hour laws. In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts: States have broad authority to regulate employment, including minimum wages; Broadly applicable wage and hour laws protect workers, guard against exploitation, promote job creation, and support thriving labor markets; The intergovernmental immunity doctrine does not exempt private employers from broadly applicable state minimum wage statutes; and The Ninth Circuit should affirm the district court's judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta is joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

May 18, 2022 patch.com
Sex Abuse Complaints At ICE Facility Often Fall On Deaf Ears: UW Study Though more than 60 sexual abuse allegations have been filed at the ICE detention center in Tacoma, few are fully investigated.

TACOMA, WA - A new report filed by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights alleges the ICE detention center in Tacoma has largely failed to respond to "systematic" sexual assault against detainees. For its report, Calls to nowhere: Reports of sexual abuse and assault go unanswered at the NWDC, the Center for Human Rights studied 63 reports of sexual assault and abuse at the Northwest Detention Center compiled over the last ten years. Researchers found that, though the facility promises to thoroughly and comprehensively investigate abuse allegations, in practice most allegations are simply filed away or ignored outright. For example, researchers found that, though the facility claims all reports of abuse brought to ICE's attention require a written report to be submitted to ICE's SEN system, 18 of the 20 sexual abuse filed through the Northwest Detention Center grievance system were never documented in SEN- even though records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show ICE was aware of those incidents. In one 2017 incident, a detainee reported being sexually harassed by an officer working in the facility, and officially filed a grievance, which was largely ignored, with the major claiming the comments were "just a joke." In another incident, a detained person complained that a health care provider had inappropriately reached inside their underwear. The detainee filed multiple complaints, which were not logged in the SEN system. Instead, officers told the detainee to file for a transfer if they did not wish to see the medical provider again. Other incidents were preliminarily investigated, but investigations were dropped once the involved detainee was deported. Ultimately, the UW report concludes that, though ICE and facility operators, the GEO group, profess to take claims of assault seriously, in practice most complaints fall on deaf ears. "What use is elaborate mandated postering to advertise an abuse hotline, if the calls go nowhere?" the report asks. "Of what benefit is a multi-layered, multi-institutional investigatory process, if cases are closed when victims are deported? And what use are sexual abuse-specific audits, if their content focuses on the existence of hotlines, guidebooks, and grievance procedures but fails to examine the extent to which such mechanisms lead to improved practices?" In a statement obtained by KNKX, the GEO Group said it rejects the reports allegations. "The Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) has a long-standing record of providing high-quality safe and humane care," said GEO Group Corporate Relations Manager Christopher Ferreira. "We take all allegations of sexual assault with the utmost seriousness and mandate zero tolerance towards all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment."

Dec 16, 2021  knkx.org

Judge: Prison company to pay Washington $4.5M in legal fees

The private prison company The GEO Group has been ordered to pay the Washington state Attorney General's Office nearly $4.5 million in legal fees, after the state sued to force the company to pay detainees at its immigration lockup in Tacoma minimum wage for work they perform there. A federal jury ruled in October that detainees held at the Northwest detention center are entitled to minimum wage for cooking, cleaning and other tasks, rather than $1 per day. The company was ordered to pay former detainees as well as the state more than $23 million in all. The judgments have been put on hold while GEO appeals, but in the meantime U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan on Tuesday awarded the state nearly $4.5 million in attorney fees.


Dec 10, 2021 reuters.com

GEO Group can't nix $17.3 mln award in $1-a-day detainee pay case
(Reuters) - A federal judge in Washington has upheld a $17.3 million jury award for immigrant detainees who were paid far below the minimum wage to participate in a work program, rejecting private prison operator GEO Group Inc's bid to significantly lower it. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan in Tacoma on Wednesday said a dispute over how many hours the detainees, who were paid $1 a day, worked was not enough to upset the October verdict, which GEO had sought to lower to no more than $13.6 million. "The jury was free to, and apparently did, find much of GEO's evidence not credible," the judge said in a brief order.Bryan granted GEO Group's motion to stay enforcement of the judgment pending an appeal. Florida-based GEO, which is represented by III Branches Law Firm, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did lawyers at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender who represent a class of hundreds of people who were detained at the facility. GEO Group, in response to the 2017 lawsuit, had argued that detainees at the 1,575-bed facility in Tacoma were not its employees under state law and were not owed the minimum wage. GEO said federal regulations permitted it to pay detainees $1 a day to clean, do laundry, wash dishes and to staff a barber shop and library. The class action was consolidated with a similar lawsuit by the Washington Attorney General's office. Bryan last month ordered GEO to pay nearly $6 million to the state after the jury ruled against the company. The cases are Washington v. GEO Group Inc and Nwauzor v. GEO Group Inc, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, Nos. 3:17-cv-05806, and 3:17-cv-05769. For the private plaintiffs: Jamal Whitehead of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender For the state: Marsha Chien and Andrea Brenneke of the Washington attorney general's office For GEO: Joan Mell of III Branches Law Firm

Nov 3, 2021 knkx.org

GEO Group ordered to pay $23.2M in Tacoma detainee minimum wage cases

A private prison company has been ordered to pay more than $23 million over lawsuits that accused it of running its for-profit immigration lockup in Washington state on the backs of detainees. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan on Tuesday ordered GEO Group to turn over $5.9 million in profits to Washington state. Bryan said that's how much the company unjustly enriched itself since 2005 by paying detainees who volunteered to perform tasks like cooking and cleaning just $1 a day, instead of the state minimum wage. The ruling came just days after a jury on Friday ordered the company to pay $17.3 million in back wages to more than 10,000 detainees and former detainees of the Northwest detention center in Tacoma. "This is a landmark victory for workers' rights and basic human dignity," Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a written statement. GEO is expected to appeal. The company, which did not return emails from The Associated Press seeking comment, has received permission from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt the detainee work program pending any appeal, court documents show. Ferguson, a Democrat, sued the Florida-based GEO Group in 2017, saying the company had unjustly profited by running the Voluntary Work Program at the detention center. Local workers would otherwise have been hired to perform the jobs that went to the detainees, he said. Private attorneys also filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of the detainees that year, seeking back pay. The judge, who rejected several attempts by GEO to dismiss the lawsuits, consolidated the cases for trial. The first trial ended in June with a deadlocked jury. The second trial ended last week with jurors deciding that GEO should have paid the state minimum wage - now $13.69 an hour - and awarding the back pay. GEO's lawyers suggested that the lawsuits were a politically motivated attack on its business. Washington state had long known of the detainee work program, but did not sue until 2017 - amid an uproar over then-President Donald Trump's immigration policies. The company maintained that the detainees were not employees under the Washington Minimum Wage Act. Even if they were, the company said, it would be unlawfully discriminatory for Washington to require GEO to pay them minimum wage when the state doesn't pay minimum wage to inmates who work at its own prisons or other detention facilities. The definition of "employee" in Washington's minimum wage law is broad - it includes anyone who is permitted to work by an employer, without regard to immigration or legal work status. The law says residents of "a state, county, or municipal" detention facility are not entitled to minimum wage for work they perform. GEO's detention center didn't fit that exemption because it's a private, for-profit facility, not a "state, county or municipal" one, attorneys for the state and for the detainees argued. The Northwest detention center houses people who are in custody while the federal government seeks to deport them or reviews their immigration status. It can hold up to 1,575 detainees, making it one of the nation's largest immigration jails, though the population has been drastically reduced during the pandemic. During the first trial, GEO acknowledged it could pay detainees more if it wanted. In 2018, the company made $18.6 million in profits from the facility; it would have cost $3.4 million to pay the minimum wage to detainees. Washington appears to be the only state to sue a private detention contractor for not paying minimum wage to immigration detainees. But similar lawsuits have been brought on behalf of immigration detainees in other states, including New Mexico, Colorado and California, seeking to force GEO and another major private detention company, CoreCivic, to pay minimum wage to detainees there. A federal judge rejected the lawsuit brought by former detainees of CoreCivic's Cibola detention center in New Mexico - a decision upheld by a federal appeals court panel in March. "Persons in custodial detention - such as appellants - are not in an employer-employee relationship but in a detainer-detainee relationship," the panel wrote.

Oct 28, 2021 newsweek.com

Private Prison Operator GEO Group Must Pay Inmates Minimum Wage for Work, Jury Rules

After a two-and-a-half-week trial, a federal jury decided Wednesday that a for-profit prison company must pay its workers the state minimum wage of $13.69. The court found that GEO Group, a private prison operator that runs the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Washington, was violating the state's minimum wage laws by only paying its workers $1 per day. The wage violation had been occurring for over 15 years. The company currently operates 57 correctional or detainee facilities across the United States, in addition to five facilities overseas. GEO Group reportedly uses immigration detainee labor to staff nearly all positions at the Northwest ICE Processing Center besides security. This includes laundry services, food preparation, maintenance and cleaning for the 1,575-bed facility. Workers were also made to "provide thousands of haircuts" at the center's barbershop, the Washington State Attorney General's Office said. The lawsuit, which was originally filed in 2017, stated that the company had been paying its workers a single dollar per day since at least 2005. Workers would occasionally be given extra food in lieu of payment, according to the lawsuit. Additionally, during interviews with the authorities, detainees "described working through the night buffing floors and painting walls in exchange for chips and candy." U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) renewed its contract for the facility in 2015, and GEO Group estimated that a full-capacity center could accrue $57 million of revenue per year. A U.S. District Court will now examine the case to determine how much money GEO Group gained from the single dollar payments. Arguments are also slated to begin Thursday in a similar class-action suit. Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson praised the decision of the court, and also requested that GEO Group be forced to reimburse both the exploited prisoners and the Tacoma citizens. "This multi-billion dollar corporation illegally exploited the people it detains to line its own pockets," Ferguson said on Facebook. "Today the jury returned a unanimous verdict: We won. GEO must now pay their workers the minimum wage." Ferguson additionally called the court's decision "a major victory for workers' rights and basic human dignity." In a separate statement, the attorney general's office also praised the decision while lambasting the actions of GEO Group, stressing that the detention center was not housing convicted prisoners. "There are no exceptions for private, for-profit facilities like GEO's facility. The people detained there are not criminals, nor part of a treatment or rehabilitation program," the statement said. "In contrast with a jail or prison, which house people involved in the criminal justice system and are operated by state or local governments, the detention center is a for-profit facility that houses people who are awaiting civil immigration proceedings." Attorney General Ferguson has a long history of fighting for civil rights in Washington state. In 2015, he created a special operation, the Wing Luke Civil Rights Division, which helps to enforce both state and federal anti-discrimination laws. This is not the first time that GEO Group has faced legal issues, including another class-action lawsuit filed by Colorado detainees who claimed they were subjected to forced labor. Newsweek has reached out to GEO Group for comment.

Oct 1, 2021 kuow.org

WA attorney general sues to close Tacoma immigrant detention center
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing to force the immediate closure of the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma. The facility detains immigrants and holds people for processing, and is operated by the for-profit company GEO Group. However, a state law passed in April of this year banned private prisons. Attorney General Ferguson says GEO Group was supposed to shutter the detention center this past Monday, Sept. 27, when the company's contract expired. GEO Group had negotiated a new contract until 2025 with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but Ferguson says the new law doesn't allow for that extension. "So we're asking the court to take action to shut them down," says Ferguson. "They are out of compliance with state law and they admit it, so from our standpoint it's not especially complicated. State law broadly makes for-profit prisons or detention centers illegal in Washington state." A GEO Group executive said in a statement they believe the new state law is unconstitutional, and that it attempts to make the operations of a federal institution unlawful. GEO is a private company, but contracts with ICE at the federal level. They say the state's new lawsuit is without merit. The company previously filed its own legal complaint, alleging it should be able to remain open. GEO's statement says it has a similar challenge ongoing in California. GEO Group has also been in court with Attorney General Bob Ferguson over how much money detainees make for the work they perform at the NWIPC. That case ended in a mistrial after jurors couldn't reach a unanimous verdict. Ferguson says they may attempt to re-try the case. Immigrant rights groups, such as La Resistencia, are applauding Ferguson's lawsuit and have been working to shut down this and other detention and deportation facilities.

Aug 18, 2021 reuters.com

GEO Group can't shake claims over $1-a-day detainee pay

(Reuters) - A Washington federal judge has refused to toss out a class action lawsuit accusing GEO Group Inc of unlawfully paying hundreds of immigrant detainees $1 per day to clean, prepare food and maintain the facility where they are housed. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan on Monday rejected claims by GEO Group's lawyers at III Branches Law that a U.S. appeals court's recent dismissal of a similar lawsuit against private prison operator CoreCivic Inc required that GEO Group be granted judgment as a matter of law. Bryan said the March ruling by the Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was not binding on him because the court does not cover the state of Washington. The CoreCivic ruling also involved the application of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, while the case against GEO Group was brought under Washington's wage-and-hour laws, the judge said. The 4th Circuit in its ruling said the federal minimum wage was designed to ensure that workers can maintain a minimal standard of living, but detainees have their basic needs provided for them and do not participate in the free labor market. Bryan declared a mistrial in the case in June after a jury deadlocked during three days of deliberations. GEO in moving for a mistrial said the nine-person jury had been unable to come to a unanimous verdict on the company's claim that it was entitled to governmental immunity because it operated a detention center in Tacoma under a government contract. Florida-based GEO did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did the plaintiffs' lawyers at Schroeter Goldmark & Bender. GEO Group has owned and operated the 1,575-bed facility in Tacoma, which holds immigrants awaiting court hearings or deportation, since 2005. In the 2017 lawsuit, the plaintiffs said the company paid them $1 per day to participate in a voluntary work program. Detainees cleaned the facility, did laundry, washed dishes and staffed a barber shop and library. Regulations adopted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2011 require private detention center operators to pay detainees at least $1 per day for their labor. But the plaintiffs claimed GEO was using them as cheap labor instead of hiring workers to do the jobs. The plaintiffs said they were GEO's employees under Washington law and were entitled to earn the minimum wage of $11 per hour. The attorney general of Washington in 2017 filed a separate lawsuit in the same court against GEO, also claiming it is required to pay detainees the state minimum wage of $11 per hour. Washington's minimum wage law does not apply to state jails, but the attorney general claims in the lawsuit that GEO is not exempt because it is a private company holding people on civil, not criminal, charges. The case is Nwauzor v. GEO Group Inc, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, No. 3:17-cv-05769. For the plaintiffs: Jamal Whitehead of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender. For GEO Group: Joan Mell of III Branches Law

Jul 16, 2021 knkx.org
EPA warns private prison company about pesticide misuse at Tacoma ICE facility

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has issued a warning to the private prison company that runs the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in Tacoma. The EPA says the Florida-based company, GEO Group, exposes detainees at the facility to pesticides multiple times a day without the opportunity to change into clean clothes. Some detainees have complained of headaches and other illnesses they believe the chemicals have caused. The ICE detention center in Tacoma, where more than 1,500 can be placed while they wait for their immigration cases to proceed, has also recently experienced a COVID outbreak, with dozens of detainees testing positive. This isn't the first time GEO Group has failed to follow EPA rules. Earlier this year, the EPA reported that California detainees at a GEO Group-run facility were experiencing nosebleeds, burning eyes and other ailments because of pesticide misuse. In an email, GEO Group said it has been safely using cleaning and disinfectant products for several years and that it intends to address the agency. Washington state has also sued GEO Group alleging its failure to pay the state minimum wage to detainees who cook and clean in the Tacoma facility. The state's attorney general expects that trial to start in October.

Jul 14, 2021 mynorthwest.com
New court date set for state's lawsuit against Tacoma ICE detention

A federal judge has set a new trial date for a lawsuit filed by the Washington Attorney General's Office against a privately-run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Tacoma. The lawsuit dates back to a complaint filed against the private contractor running the prison in 2017, claiming that it had been "unjustly enriching itself" on the labor of detainees, and that detainees be paid minimum wage for work performed at the facility. Previously, they had been paid $1 a day for cooking, cleaning, and laundry services, despite minimum wage at the time being $12 an hour. After four years, the case finally went to trial last month, culminating in 11 days of proceedings and a hung jury. Because the jury couldn't come to a decision, a new trial date has been set for Oct. 12, 2021. The Tacoma facility is Washington's only private detention center, having been at the center of more than one controversy in recent years. That includes an incident in April 2020, where 50 inmates at the facility participated in a hunger strike, spelling out the letters "SOS" in the yard of the detention center with their bodies. That marked the third hunger strike in as many weeks that month, including 300 people who participated during the first week of April. The facility has also faced accusations of administering inadequate medical care, and keeping detainees in solitary confinement for inappropriately long periods of time. Approximately 65% of the population in the Northwest Detention Center has a "non-criminal" background; they were detained at the southern border and transferred to Washington to await the outcome of their immigration cases. Roughly 30% of those detainees are from Mexico, the next largest group is from India, and then the "northern triangle" of Central America. Earlier in 2021, state lawmakers passed a measure formally banning private prisons, specifically targeting the Tacoma facility for closure. The bill allows the facility to remain open through the end of its contract with ICE, which expires in 2025. That saw the facility's private contractor file a lawsuit against the state last spring, alleging that the newly-passed bill conflicts with the federal government's "detention efforts within Washington's borders."

Jun 18, 2021 courthousenews.com      Home Page
Hung Jury in Trial Over Minimum Wage for Detainees in Washington State

TACOMA, Wash. (CN) - A trial to determine whether a for-profit prison group should pay detainees in voluntary work programs minimum wage ended in a hung jury Thursday. The state of Washington sued GEO Group in 2017 for violating the state's minimum wage laws. The GEO-run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, pays detained workers $1 a day, but the state's minimum wage was $12 an hour at the time of the lawsuit. After nearly four years, the case finally went to trial last week in virtual proceedings due to the pandemic. Jurors deliberated three days before declaring they were deadlocked on the state's request for enforcement of minimum wage and charges that the prison group owes back wages to detainees. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan of the Western District of Washington was clearly disappointed when announcing the mistrial Thursday afternoon. "A lot of work down the tube," Bryan told the courtroom. Bryan had consolidated claims brought by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and a class of detainees for the trial. In his opening instructions to jurors, Bryan said the cases were not about United States immigration policy and not about whether hiring private prison contractors is "a good or bad policy." The state said that work performed by detainees, including cooking, cleaning and operating laundry facilities deserve appropriate pay. GEO argued throughout the trial that detainees are not employees and not entitled to minimum wage. Even if they were employees, GEO argued, the state could not require the company to pay minimum wage to detainees when Washington state prisoners are not paid minimum wage. Bryan has not set a new trial date. GEO has operated the detention center as a federal contractor since 2005. Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill in April that would shut down for-profit detention centers by 2025. "Washington has not supported use of private prisons, and this bill continues that policy by prohibiting private detention facilities from operating in the state," Inslee said before signing the bill. GEO immediately sued in federal court, challenging the constitutionality of the law. The case is in initial proceedings.

Jun 16, 2021 abcnews.go.com

Jury deciding if immigration detainees must get minimum wage A federal jury is deciding whether one of the nation's biggest private prison companies must pay minimum wage instead of $1 a day to immigration detainees who perform tasks like cooking and cleaning at its jail in Washington state

SEATTLE -- A federal jury is deciding whether one of the nation's biggest private prison companies must pay minimum wage - instead of $1 a day - to immigration detainees who perform tasks like cooking and cleaning at its jail in Washington state. Democratic Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the Florida-based GEO Group in 2017, saying the company had unjustly profited by running the Northwest detention center in Tacoma on the backs of captive workers. A separate lawsuit filed on behalf of detainees was also filed that year, seeking back pay. Tacoma-based U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, who rejected several attempts by GEO to dismiss the lawsuits, consolidated the cases for trial, which he conducted via Zoom because of the pandemic. "What GEO is doing to exploit captive detainee workers at the Northwest detention center is for real - and at a massive scale," Assistant Attorney General Andrea Brenneke told the jury in closing arguments Tuesday. "GEO could easily pay detainee workers the minimum wage and still make millions of dollars in profits from the facility each year." GEO's response is that the detainees simply aren't employees. Even if they were, the company says, it would be unlawfully discriminatory for Washington to require GEO to pay them minimum wage - now $13.69 an hour - when the state doesn't pay minimum wage to inmates who work at its own prisons or other detention facilities. In her closing argument, GEO attorney Joan Mell accused the state and detainee advocates of using the lawsuits to attack the immigration detention system. GEO has operated the detainee work program for more than a decade, and the state made no effort to get the company to pay the minimum wage until 2017, amid a flurry of lawsuits Ferguson filed against the Trump administration. "If the plaintiffs can prove the Minimum Wage Act is - quote - applicable ... then they can reform immigration detention without ever having to go to Congress," she said. "They're taking a shortcut via the courthouse to get what they want." The Northwest detention center houses people who are in custody while the government seeks to deport them or reviews their immigration status. It can hold up to 1,575 detainees, making it one of the nation's largest immigration jails, though as of early this month its population was just 216, largely due to the pandemic. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which pays GEO to run the facility, requires the company to operate a "voluntary work program" to keep the detainees occupied. It requires them to be paid at least $1 per day for work that includes cleaning bathrooms, showers and industrial kitchens; washing and folding laundry; sweeping and buffing floors; preparing and serving food; and cutting hair. Former detainees testified that they worked because they needed money to buy extra food or clothing at the commissary or to make phone calls to loved ones. The shifts often last just an hour or two. GEO's own analysis said it that if detainees didn't do the work, it would need to hire 85 full-time workers from the community. GEO's contract with ICE also requires it to comply with applicable state and local law - which, the state says, includes the Washington Minimum Wage Act. Washington appears to be the only state suing a private detention contractor for not paying minimum wage to immigration detainees. But similar lawsuits have been brought on behalf of immigration detainees in other states, including New Mexico, Colorado and California, seeking to force GEO and another major private detention company, CoreCivic, to pay minimum wage to detainees there. The Colorado and California cases are pending, but a federal judge rejected the lawsuit brought by former detainees of CoreCivic's Cibola detention center in New Mexico - a decision upheld by a federal appeals court panel in March. "Persons in custodial detention-such as appellants-are not in an employer-employee relationship but in a detainer-detainee relationship," the panel wrote. That is the crux of GEO's argument in the Washington case. The company acknowledges it has the money to pay detainees the minimum wage if it wants. In 2018 GEO made $18.6 million in profits from the facility; it would have cost $3.4 million to pay the minimum wage to detainees. Mell also pointed to provisions in GEO's contract with ICE that state that any employees GEO hires must have legal status in the U.S. Many of the detainees don't. "The contract spells it out: The detainees are not employees," Mell said. "They can't be." But the definition of "employee" in Washington's minimum wage law is extremely broad - it includes anyone who is permitted to work by an employer, without regard to immigration or legal work status. The law says residents of "a state, county, or municipal" detention facility are not entitled to minimum wage. According to lawyers for the state and for the detainees, that exception doesn't cover a private, for-profit jail such as GEO's. Further, GEO oversaw the scheduling and performance of the work just as a typical employer does, they said. If the jury finds that the minimum wage law applies to GEO, a second phase of the trial will be held to determine damages. Jurors did not reach a verdict Tuesday; they were to resume deliberations Wednesday. In a separate effort, Washington is trying to close the detention center entirely. This spring Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law that would ban for-profit detention centers in the state. GEO has sued to block it.

Jun 3, 2021 kuow.org

Washington state and detainees challenge $1 a day GEO Group pay policy

Opening arguments began today in a lawsuit filed by Washington state against GEO Group, the private company that runs the immigration detention center in Tacoma. At issue is whether or not GEO Group must pay its detainees the state minimum wage for work they do at the facility, or what they make now, $1 a day. The lawsuit involves what GEO Group calls its voluntary work program, which includes cooking and cleaning in the facility. Gene Johnson is covering the trial for the Associated Press. He told KUOW's Kim Malcolm about the details of the trial. This interview has been edited for clarity. Kim Malcolm: How is it possible that detainees get paid just $1 a day? Gene Johnson: Years ago, Congress set that as the rate of pay for detainees who perform this kind of work. It is possible to pay them more. It's also worth noting that ICE requires the GEO Group to offer this sort of voluntary work program as a way to keep the detainees occupied. The GEO Group's argument is that this isn't actually a paid employee relationship, that this is something separate? Right. The GEO Group notes the turnover is astronomical. It's really not an efficient way to run a business. They describe it almost as a burden that they have to run this. They say that they're not actually profiting from running the voluntary work program. And the Washington State Attorney General is suing them on what basis? Washington's minimum wage law does exempt detainees of government-owned prisons, jails, and detention facilities from having to be paid the minimum wage for work that they perform. However, Attorney General Bob Ferguson says that exemption in the law does not cover a privately owned facility that's run by a for-profit corporation. Part of the general overhead of running this facility is that you need people to clean it, you need people to cook meals, you need people to work in the barbershop. The Attorney General says by not paying the minimum wage for those types of tasks, GEO has unjustly profited. Beyond that, he also says it has deprived jobs from people in the local community who might otherwise be employed there. What is the State Attorney General's Office seeking from the court here? First, it wants a finding that the minimum wage law does apply to the detainees, that these detainees are employees. If the jury finds that, then there will be a trial over damages. Meanwhile, there is a separate lawsuit also being heard. It's a class action filed by detainees. They are seeking back pay for anyone who performed work in this program since late 2014. What would a victory in court mean for the detainees at the Northwest Detention Center? It would mean a lot more money if they're paid the minimum wage to do these tasks. An attorney for the plaintiffs mentioned to the jury during opening statements that one of his named clients, a class representative named Goodluck Nwauzor, fled with his family from Nigeria after Boko Haram destroyed his store. He wound up spending a year in custody at the Northwest Detention Center as he sought asylum. Eventually, he was granted residence and got a job at a Seattle hotel, but he was laid off as a result of the pandemic. Receiving that back pay now from the work that he performed in detention would presumably mean quite a lot to him. Meanwhile, in a separate legal battle, GEO Group has filed a lawsuit against Washington state in federal court. That came after the state legislature passed a law this year that bans private detention facilities. The law allows GEO Group to operate the detention facility until the year 2025 when its contract expires with ICE.

Jun 2, 2021 knkx.org
Trial will determine if GEO Group must pay minimum wage to detainees at Tacoma facility

After nearly four years of litigation and pandemic-related delays, a trial is underway to determine whether the GEO Group must pay minimum wage to detainees who perform cooking, cleaning and other tasks at its immigration detention center in Tacoma. Detainees are typically paid $1 per day when they work shifts in the Voluntary Work Program at the for-profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The state's minimum wage is now $13.69 per hour. Attorney General Bob Ferguson and some detainees filed separate lawsuits against GEO in 2017, arguing that the company's contract with the federal government requires it to follow state and local laws - including Washington's Minimum Wage Act - and that GEO, one of the nation's largest private detention companies, unjustly profited by paying so little. Tacoma-based U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan, who has rejected several attempts by GEO to dismiss the lawsuits, consolidated the cases for trial, which he is conducting via Zoom because of the pandemic. By mid-afternoon Tuesday, a jury of nine people had been chosen. Opening statements were expected Wednesday. "These cases are not about whether the government's contracting with private entities to operate detention facilities is a good or bad policy," Bryan told potential jurors Tuesday morning. "These cases are also not about United States' immigration policy or border issues." However, there are political undertones. In 2014, amid a hunger strike by detainees, immigrant rights activists tried to convince the governor's office and the state Department of Labor and Industries that detainees should be paid minimum wage for work performed there. After reviewing the matter, Labor and Industry officials determined that Washington didn't have jurisdiction over the federal government's detainees for purposes of wage issues, according to public records obtained by GEO and filed in the case. In 2017, amid a flurry of lawsuits over the new Trump administration's immigration policies, Ferguson reached a different conclusion, saying GEO was exploiting Washington residents. The Democrat successfully sued President Donald Trump that year over Trump's initial travel ban affecting seven Muslim-majority nations - one of more than 80 lawsuits Ferguson filed against the administration. Trump's Justice Department sought - and failed - to have Washington's lawsuit against GEO lawsuit dismissed, calling it "an aggressive and legally unjustified effort by the state of Washington to interfere with federal immigration enforcement." GEO opened the detention center in 2005 and has expanded it twice. It houses people accused of civil immigration violations pending the resolution of their cases, including potential deportation. It can now hold 1,575 detainees, though because of pandemic-related concerns the population recently was about 250. In a separate effort, the state is now trying to close it entirely. Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law passed by the the Democratic-led Legislature that would ban for-profit detention centers in Washington. GEO has sued to block it. GEO insists it is immune from the minimum wage lawsuits by virtue of its relationship with the federal government. At any rate, the detainees are not "employees" entitled to minimum wage, it argues. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requires private detention facilities to operate work programs for detainees as a way to reduce their boredom and improve their morale, GEO argues. The company doesn't have a choice but to offer the program even if the tasks assigned are redundant or if the detainee lacks skill - "inefficiencies that would never be tolerated in an employee-employer relationship," GEO argued in a trial brief. Further, the turnover is "astronomical," the company's lawyers argued: "GEO does not profit from the (Voluntary Work Program), but rather, is burdened with its implementation and supervision without any tangible return." Washington state, however, argues that the federal government requires detainees to be paid "at least" $1 per day; nothing prevents the company from paying more. And while the state's minimum wage law exempts prisoners of government-owned detention facilities, it makes no such exemption for detainees at private ones. "By relying on detainee labor, GEO avoided the cost of hiring non-detainee workers and unjustly pocketed the savings and resulting profits," the attorney general's office wrote in its trial brief. Further, GEO deprived local residents of jobs they might otherwise have worked, the state says. The trial could last several weeks. If the jury finds that the minimum wage law applies to GEO, a second phase will be held to determine damages. The detainee lawsuit is a class-action seeking back pay.

May 18, 2021 bgdailynews.com
Prison group sues to keep immigrant detention center open Private prison corporation GEO Group is suing Washington state, saying a new law mandating the closure of one of the country's largest for-profit, privately run immigration jails would unconstitutionally subvert federal authority May 17,

SEATTLE (AP) - Private prison corporation GEO Group has sued Washington state, saying a new law mandating the closure of the immigrant detention center it operates in Tacoma would unconstitutionally subvert federal authority. The law enacted by the Legislature in March interferes with a contract signed between GEO and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the company's complaint filed last month in U.S. District Court of Western Washington, The Seattle Times reported. The law also attempts to undermine federal enforcement efforts, the lawsuit said. "This transparent attempt by the state to shut down the federal government's detention efforts within Washington's borders is a direct assault on the supremacy of federal law, and it cannot stand," the lawsuit said. GEO seeks a preliminary injunction and also argues the state law would force the detention center to shutter in September, which is much earlier than many people assumed. The struggle over the 1,575-bed Northwest ICE Processing Center - one of the country's largest for-profit, privately run immigration jails - follows years of criticism by activists and human-rights advocates saying immigrants held there are given inadequate food and medical care, and spend much longer on average in solitary confinement than at other such institutions. State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is additionally suing GEO for allegedly violating minimum-wage laws by paying detainees $1 a day to work there. That suit is set to begin trial June 1. The company's lawyers did not return phone calls from the newspaper seeking comment. Ferguson, in a statement, said he supports the new law and will defend it vigorously. The law, which bans most types of private detention facilities but in practice affects just the Tacoma facility, allows current contracts to run their course. In 2015, ICE signed a contract with GEO to run the Tacoma facility with options for extension through March 2026. In January, after lawmakers introduced the private detention bill, the federal government and GEO modified the contract, removing the options and making it run through September 2025. It's not clear which contract would be used to calculate the closure. The 2015 contract is up for possible extension in September, according to GEO. Matt Adams, legal director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said a judge in this case might be tempted to wait for a similar California case to play out in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Oral arguments are to be held next month in that case, involving challenges by GEO and the federal government to a California law banning private detention facilities. U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino mostly ruled against GEO and the federal government in October, holding that the California law did not override federal authority by banning certain contracts.

Apr 15, 2021 knkx.org

Inslee signs bill banning private prisons, including Tacoma ICE facility

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Wednesday banning all private, for-profit prisons. The new law means the privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Tacoma will have to close after its contract expires in 2025. Due to the pandemic, the number of people being detained there is at a record low -- about 200. Still, activist Maru Mora Villalpando of La Resistencia says the possibility of rising COVID cases inside the facility remains a concern. “There's no need for people to be detained," she said. "Some people in detention have said forever, 'I'm not saying to stop my deportation. I will continue my deportation process, but I don't have to be detained if I'm with my family and if I'm able to be with them and not be a burden to them, it's easier for me to fight my case.' ” ICE says the private prison ban won’t prevent immigration enforcement but could require the transfer of detainees. GEO Group, the private prison company that runs the Tacoma facility, called the signing of the bill “political theater.”

Mar 31, 2021 thenewstribune.com

Bill to ban private prisons in Washington state heads to Inslee’s desk

A bill that would ban private detention facilities in Washington state — outlawing the renewal of a contract between ICE and a private company that runs a controversial detention center in Tacoma — is headed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk. In a 28-21 vote, the state Senate approved the bill, which had already been approved by the House of Representatives. The only private prison currently in Washington state is the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which is owned and operated by the GEO Group under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. Under the bill, that arrangement could continue until the contract expires in 2025. The bill includes a number of exemptions from the prohibition, including facilities used for substance use disorders and to hold people in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service. “This bill is about a conflict of interest,” said sponsor Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self of Mukilteo in the bill’s first public hearing. “When you are trying to make a profit off of those that are incarcerated, there’s an inherent conflict of interest when you are beholden to your stakeholders versus those that you serve.” It’s also about “eliminating abuse,” she said, citing reports out of the Tacoma detention facility, and ensuring people are treated humanely in the state. In floor debate last month, Ortiz-Self spoke of complaints of abuse “ranging from maggots in their food to denying access to health care” and ongoing hunger strikes. Angelina Godoy, director of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, testified in committee that the center has published reports on the prison based on documents from GEO Group and ICE — documents they had to sue for in federal court. The documents revealed a different picture than what was presented publicly, she said, including that the detention center detained people longer in solitary confinement, on average, than any other ICE detention facility in the country. Tacoma City Council Member Kristina Walker testified in support of the measure at its first public hearing, saying community members’ serious concerns with the facility prompted the council to file requests for information from the federal government that have mostly been rejected. “We shouldn’t have to sue to find out the truth,” Godoy said. Representatives with the GEO Group in that public hearing insisted stories people hear about the facility aren’t true. “As it relates to private detention, we provide our services with multiple layers of accountability,” said Director of Community Outreach Emanuel Barr. He said GEO was being used as a “political scapegoat.” Several Republican senators spoke in opposition to the bill Tuesday. Many questioned the state’s role when it comes to a federal facility. GEO Group has challenged a similar ban in California in court. A federal judge has so far mostly upheld the ban, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Let’s focus on encouraging the federal government to better administer these facilities, provide better oversight of these facilities, and let’s watch this California lawsuit as it goes through to see if federal preemption is going to be an issue,” Sen. Chris Gildon of Puyallup said in floor debate. “We can take a tactical pause on this particular bill, and then move forward at a later date as we’re better informed.” Maru Mora Villalpando, a community organizer with La Resistencia, told McClatchy she’s been fighting for the closure of the detention center in Tacoma since it opened in 2004. La Resistencia came together as an organization in March 2014, with the first publicized hunger strike at the facility. Reached by phone Tuesday, she said the organization will now focus on emptying the detention center and ensuring there’s a plan for people who are released to get back home. She was grateful for the work of Rep. Ortiz-Self, she said, along with many others. “It’s been such a long, hard fight,” Mora Villalpando said. “It’s not easy for people like us to win.” The bill now awaits Gov. Inslee’s signature.

Mar 3, 2021 chronline.com

Bill That Bans Private Prisons in Washington Wins Bipartisan Support

Washington’s only private detention center is proposed for closure. House Bill 1090 prohibits any person, business or government from operating private, for-profit detention facilities. It recently passed in the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support, and will receive a Senate vote in the coming weeks. “When you have to report to (stakeholders) that profit, there is a conflict with meeting the needs of those that are incarcerated,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, who was prime sponsor of the bill. “And it's easy to abuse, because those who are incarcerated have the least voice of anybody.” The Northwest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma currently is the only private detention facility in the state. Owned by the private company GEO, it has come under fire in the past for aggressive use of solitary confinement, and because detainees frequently stage hunger strikes to protest conditions. Under the bill, the facility can continue to operate until its contract with ICE ends in 2025. Reports from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights show the NWIPC detains people in solitary confinement longer than any other dedicated ICE facility in the nation and frequently uses solitary confinement for those who are mentally ill — a violation of ICE’s own rules. UW reports also found frequent complaints of detainees being served spoiled food, sometimes infested with worms or maggots, which triggered several of the hunger strikes. A spokesman for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association partially founded by GEO that represents companies in private detention and corrections, in a statement called the bill an, “ill-advised legislative effort.” The statement defended treatment at the NWIPC, saying detainees receive “three nutritious daily meals catering to a range of dietary needs,” free legal counsel and get access to “modern recreation amenities.” The statement also attacked the bill for the possibility of separating those detained in the facility from support networks. “This bill would likely force those individuals to be transferred outside of the state, isolating them from family, friends and legal services,” the statement said. In response, proponents of the bill explained the federal government would decide what happens to those detained in the facility when its contract ends in 2025. It is also Rep. Ortiz-Self’s understanding that many, if not most, of the prisoners were not detained in Washington. Rep. Ortiz-Self said she believes those in the facility “would prefer humane treatment over proximity.” As the bill heads toward a Senate vote, Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, who has worked on similar legislation in the past, is optimistic about the bill's prospects in her chamber after speaking with fellow Senators. “Is this the best use of public resources?” Saldaña asked. “To be paying private companies incentivized to keep their beds at capacity?” Saldaña has another reason to be optimistic. The bill passed with bipartisan support in the House, receiving a 76-21 vote, with almost half of all Republicans voting in favor. Ortiz-Self thinks the repeated stories shared by detainees is why the bill received so much support from across the aisle. “I think what touched everybody's heart regardless of which side they were on, were the stories of the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency, the number of hunger strikes and the number of abuses that continue to hit the news,” said Ortiz-Self. The bill includes some exceptions for facilities providing treatment to juveniles and those providing services to a person who has been committed for involuntary mental health treatment.

Feb. 24, 2021 spokesman.com

Washington House aims to close Northwest immigration jail

SEATTLE  — The Washington House of Representatives voted Tuesday to ban for-profit, private detention facilities in the state, in a move aimed at shutting down the Northwest immigration detention center in Tacoma. The 1,575-bed immigration lockup is operated by the GEO Group under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The measure, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self of Mukilteo, passed 76-21 and now advances to the state Senate. The bill doesn’t specifically mention the immigration jail, but it’s Washington’s only private detention facility. It would allow GEO to continue operating the jail until its contract with ICE expires in 2025. Ortiz-Self cited reports of substandard food and medical care in private prisons and noted that many detained there have reportedly undertaken hunger strikes to protest the conditions. “It is a moral injustice to profit off of those who are incarcerated,” she said. Opponents said the bill was sure to bring litigation. GEO sued over a similar 2019 measure in California, though a federal judge there largely sided with the state. The company has long said it provides for the safety of detainees there in accordance with federal standards, and ICE has insisted that many of the “hunger strikes” are orchestrated by activists and involve detainees who turn down provided meals, instead buying other food from the commissary. Due to detainee releases and precautions related to the pandemic, the population there recently stood at about 300 detainees — less than one-fifth of its maximum capacity. The Tacoma immigration lockup has long been a target of immigrant rights activists. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is suing to force GEO to pay the state minimum wage to detainees who perform janitorial and other tasks at the jail. During a news conference last month, Gov. Jay Inslee said he had not closely reviewed the bill, but that he generally supports banning private detention centers in Washington.

Dec 1, 2020 bakersfield.com

'Secret prison within a prison': Report details solitary confinement practices at Northwest detention center in Tacoma

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Northwest detention center in Tacoma holds people in solitary confinement on average more than any other dedicated U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility, according to a new watchdog report. The report by the University of Washington's Center for Human Rights also contends that the center — in violation of ICE's own policies — imposes solitary confinement on inmates with mental-health issues, or who are exercising their First Amendment rights by going on hunger strikes. The report is based on federal government records and documents by the company that operates the prison, GEO Group, which were obtained by the Center for Human Rights after years of litigation. The privately run detention center holds as many as 1,575 immigrants accused by the government of living illegally in the U.S. and facing deportation proceedings. In an interview, Angelina Godoy, director for UW's Center for Human Rights, said the report "speaks to this existence of a secret prison within a prison." "There's essentially no effective oversight of the practice" of solitary confinement, Godoy added. "And from the data that we were able to gather, there's really disturbing conclusions about just flagrant violation of international human rights norms." Asked about the report, a spokesperson for ICE's Northwest Region wrote in an email that the agency "does not retaliate in any way and respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference." "Any suggestion to the contrary is irresponsible, speculative and inaccurate," wrote spokesperson Tanya Roman, who referred questions about the GEO Group's processes to the company. An email Friday to the GEO Group seeking comment was not returned. The report is based on various sets of overlapping records from between 2013 and March 2020 that track solitary confinement cases and significant incidents by either ICE or GEO Group employees. Researchers combined that information with statements by people who are or were detained by collaborating with various advocacy organizations, according to the report, as well as reviewing federal court filings. Stays in solitary confinement at the center averaged nearly 70 days, which was "29% longer than any other dedicated detention facility," according to the report. "The national average during this period was approximately 30 days." Using ICE data between September 2013 and March 2020, the review found that 34% of solitary placements "involved people whose records were flagged to indicate the person had been diagnosed with a mental illness." "Six placements listed 'mental illness' as the reason for their placement in solitary," according to the report. "The longest placement of an individual in solitary confinement for reasons of mental illness was 147 days; on average, people detained at (the center) who were placed in solitary for mental health reasons spent approximately 38 days in segregation." "This clearly runs afoul of international standards, which mandate caution for the placement of mentally ill prisoners in solitary at all, and expressly prohibit solitary stays longer than 15 days for any prisoner, considering it tantamount to torture," according to the report. In at least six cases, the center put inmates into solitary confinement after they protested their treatment through hunger strikes, according to the report. "This way of responding to protest suggests the retaliatory use of solitary confinement, a practice inconsistent with international human rights norms," the report concluded. The report also detailed discrepancies between the data in the records being kept. In one instance, the ACLU in 2018 filed a lawsuit against the center after an inmate involved in hunger strikes, Jesus Chavez, was put in disciplinary segregation, according to the report. But, "A detailed review of all four separate logs of solitary confinement placements from 2013 to 2020, plus hundreds of pages of written documentation prepared and archived by GEO Group governing the reasons for all solitary placements from January 1, 2018 to March 31, 2020, there is no mention of Mr. Chavez ever having been placed in solitary," according to the report. "Had his case not been the subject of litigation in federal court, there would be no recognition that he had ever been in solitary." Researchers "asked ICE's attorneys why Mr. Chavez's case was not included in the collection of records provided to us, since they insist these cover all solitary placements during this period," according to the report. But, "They indicated that they would not answer any further questions until several sets of unrelated documents we are seeking have been released to us, a process that is projected to last into 2021."

Oct 10, 2019 courthousenews.com
Washington State Lawsuit Against Private Prison Allowed to Move Forward

SEATTLE (CN) –Washington state can continue to pursue claims against a for-profit prison and detention facility operator for failing to pay federal immigration detainees minimum wage, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, reversing his previous decision to dismiss the case. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan said in a proposed ruling two weeks ago that new rulings on intergovernmental immunity clarified federal contractors should be treated the same as the federal government. Washington does not pay minimum wage to detainees in voluntary work programs and cannot require GEO Group, which is contracted by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), to do so without violating the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Bryan originally said. Bryan said his previous decision allowing the case to proceed was wrong and he gave both sides a chance to respond before he dismissed the case. After reviewing Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s arguments, Bryan changed his mind again Wednesday, saying proposed comparisons between the state’s inmates and ICE’s civil detainees are not supported by the record. “…It follows that the record does not support a finding that application of the Minimum Wage Act impermissibly discriminates against the Defendant, The GEO Group, Inc., and through it, the United States. Material issues of fact remain regarding the proper comparators for determination of whether the State discriminates against the Defendant in the State’s proposed application of the Minimum Wage Act,” according to the ruling. Bryan said GEO Group’s intergovernmental immunity defense “remains an undecided issue,” so proceedings will continue. Washington sued GEO Group in 2017 for violating the state’s minimum wage laws. The GEO-run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma pays detained workers $1 a day, but the state’s minimum wage is $12 an hour.

Aug 26, 2019 lmtribune.com

DOJ balks at paying detainees minimum wage.

Privately run company contends it isn’t bound by Washington state law

SEATTLE — The Trump administration is opposing Washington’s effort to make a privately run, for-profit immigration detention center pay detainees minimum wage for the work they do. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued The GEO Group in 2017, saying its Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma must pay the state minimum wage to detainees who perform kitchen, laundry, janitorial, maintenance and barbershop tasks. The lawsuit seeks to force GEO to turn over profits it gained by underpaying them — an amount that could reach into the millions. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan has already issued some key rulings in the state’s favor. But in a “statement of interest” filed this week, the Justice Department called the lawsuit “an aggressive and legally unjustified effort by the State of Washington to interfere with federal immigration enforcement,” and it urged Bryan to reject it. The department said that because the state’s minimum wage act doesn’t apply to inmates of state prisons, it impermissibly discriminates against the federal government to apply it to a federal contractor holding detainees on civil immigration violations. The judge has already rejected that argument, but on Thursday agreed to reconsider it and other arguments and set a hearing for Sept. 12. “The State insists that these federal immigration detainees are ‘employees’ under state law, even though it simultaneously exempts similarly-situated detainees in state facilities from the minimum wage,” the Justice Department said. “Basic constitutional principles prevent a State from interfering with the federal government’s activities in the way Washington is trying to do here.” The Northwest Detention Center is a 1,575-bed facility, one of the nation’s largest privately run immigrant detention centers. On any given day, about 470 of them perform some sort of work through a voluntary program, earning $1 per day. GEO has the authority to pay more, but Congress will only reimburse it up to that amount. Washington argues it is entitled to enforce the minimum wage law against GEO just as it’s entitled to enforce it against any other company. The law does exempt state prisons from paying inmates for work, but it doesn’t do the same for private detention centers, it says. Further, the state says, GEO’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement requires the detainee work program to comply with all applicable labor laws — including Washington’s minimum wage law, since GEO is in a clear employer-employee relationship with the detainees. “The Trump Administration apparently thinks the for-profit, private company that runs Northwest Detention Center should be above the law,” Ferguson said in an emailed statement. “Despite President Trump’s position, GEO must comply with Washington law and either pay the detainees that run its facility minimum wage, or pay minimum wage to Washington workers to do the job.” GEO has attacked Ferguson’s lawsuit as being “politically motivated.” In court documents, the company says the state has known about the dollar-a-day payments since as early as 2009, but that Ferguson did not file a lawsuit until after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump and his implementation of controversial immigration policies.

Jul 14, 2019 thevalleydispatch.com
 Police: 69-year-old man dies after attacking migrant jail

TACOMA, Wash. — A 69-year-old man armed with a rifle threw incendiary devices at an immigration jail in Washington state early Saturday morning, then was found dead after four police officers arrived and opened fire, authorities said. The Tacoma Police Department said the officers responded about 4 a.m. to the privately run Tacoma Northwest Detention Center, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security detention facility that holds migrants pending deportation proceedings. The detention center has also held immigration-seeking parents separated from their children under President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" policy, an effort meant to deter illegal immigration. The shooting took place about six hours after a peaceful rally in front of the detention center, police spokesman Loretta Cool said. On Saturday night, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office identified the man as Willem Van Spronsen of Vashon Island, the Tacoma News-Tribune and the Seattle Times reported. Police said Van Spronsen caused a vehicle to catch fire and that he attempted to ignite a large propane tank and set buildings on fire. Police said that besides the rifle, he had a satchel and flares. Police said officers called out to Van Spronsen, and shots were fired. Cool said all four officers fired their weapons, but she didn't have specific details of what took place. She said the officers weren't wearing body cameras, but the area is covered by surveillance cameras from the detention center. She said she didn't know if the man fired at the officers. After the gunfire, officers took cover, contained the area and set up medical aid a short distance away, police said. Officers then located Van Spronsen and determined he had been shot and was dead at the scene. Authorities say investigators are processing the scene and police are continuing to investigate. No law enforcement officers were injured. The four Tacoma police officers who fired their weapons have been placed on paid administrative leave as is standard in officer-involved shootings. A friend of Van Spronsen said that she thinks he wanted to provoke a fatal conflict, the Seattle Times reported. Deb Bartley, who told the Times she has been a friend of Willem Van Spronsen's for about 20 years, described him as an anarchist and anti-fascist, and believes his attack on the detention center intending to provoke a fatal conflict. "He was ready to end it," Bartley said. "I think this was a suicide. But then he was able to kind of do it in a way that spoke to his political beliefs . I know he went down there knowing he was going to die." She said that she and other friends of Van Spronsen got letters in the mail "just saying goodbye." He also wrote what she referred to as a manifesto, which she declined to discuss in detail, the Times reported. Van Spronsen was accused of assaulting a police officer during a protest outside the detention center in 2018, The News-Tribune reported. According to court documents, he lunged at the officer and wrapped his arms around the officer's neck and shoulders, as the officer was trying to detain a 17-year-old protester June 26, 2018, the newspaper reported. According to court documents, police handcuffed Van Spronsen and found that he had a collapsible baton and a folding knife in his pocket. Van Spronsen pleaded guilty to the charge of obstructing police, and was given a deferred sentence in October, the News-Tribune reported. GEO Group, which runs the 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center, in an email to The Associated Press said baseless accusations about how detainees are treated at its facilities "have led to misplaced aggression and a dangerous environment for our employees, whose safety is our top priority. Violence of any kind against our employees and property will not be tolerated. We are thankful for the quick and brave action by the Tacoma Police Department, which prevented innocent lives from being endangered." GEO Group said the detention center in Tacoma has modern amenities with air conditioning, recreational activities, a bed for every individual and medical care available at all hours. Last year, a federal judge ruled that Washington state could pursue its lawsuit seeking to force GEO Group to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees at the detention center. In November, a Russian asylum-seeker who conducted a hunger strike to protest the conditions at the detention center died by suicide, the Pierce County Medical Examiner's Office ruled. Mergensana Amar, 40, was taken off life support after attempting to kill himself while in voluntary protective custody at the detention center on Nov. 15, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said.

May 14, 2019 seattletimes.com 
Judge slaps down defenses by operators of Tacoma immigration jail over $1 a day paid to detainees for work
A federal judge has struck down defenses offered by the private company that runs the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) in Tacoma, opening the way for the state to force The GEO Group to turn over profits to compensate immigration detainees and start to pay them minimum wage, rather than the $1 a day the company has paid up until now. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan granted a motion filed by the office of Attorney General Bob Ferguson to dismiss a series of so-called “affirmative defenses” posed by the company that would have blocked Ferguson’s lawsuit, ruling that the lawsuit was not untimely. Bryan also found that the attorney general did not act with “unclean hands” — meaning the lawsuit was not filed in bad faith —  and said it was not a defense that the AG did not include Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) in the lawsuit. ICE is the agency that hired GEO to run the center, and L&I enforces the state’s Minimum Wage Act. The ruling, issued Monday, is the latest blow to the private company trying to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by Ferguson in 2017, asking the court to force GEO to comply with the state’s Minimum Wage Act. GEO has owned and operated the 1,575-bed NWDC since 2005 under a contract with ICE. Last year, Bryan ordered GEO to turn over financial information to the AG’s office, but stopped short of saying that information could be used at trial. The GEO Group, in a statement Monday, did not address the ruling. Instead, it attacked Ferguson for filing the lawsuit, claiming it was done for political gain. “The Attorney General’s claims are politically motivated,” the company said in a prepared statement. The so-called Voluntary Work Program is used in all ICE Processing Centers, the company said, and has “been in place for decades.” The program, GEO said, “became part of the ICE performance-based standards under the Obama Administration.” GEO said it has been abiding by “federally mandated standards and congressionally established guidelines.” Ferguson, a Democrat, filed his lawsuit after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, whose anti-immigrant rhetoric has been a cornerstone of his administration. “Today’s decision puts us one step closer to ensuring GEO complies with state laws and doesn’t take advantage of Washington workers,” Ferguson said through a spokesman. The trial is set for Sept. 23. GEO pays detainees $1 per day to volunteer for tasks such as janitorial or kitchen work. Washington’s minimum wage is now $12 per hour. The state wants GEO to give up the profits it has made relying on detainee labor over the years, which would likely amount to millions of dollars. In an earlier ruling, the judge said GEO had failed to show that Washington state’s minimum wage law, to the extent it applies to detainees, is overridden by federal law prohibiting the employment of people who entered the county illegally. That law says it’s up to the federal government, not the states, to impose sanctions on those who hire people who entered the country illegally.In ruling on the timeliness of the lawsuit, the judge pointed out that while the state has known of the $1-a-day practice since at least 2014, he said the company failed to show that waiting three and a half years to file the action amounted to an “unreasonable delay” that would have blocked it from going forward. GEO said that it had evidence that an unnamed state legislator was made aware of the practice in 2009. However, Bryan said that does not mean the governor, Ferguson, or other members of the executive branch, which is responsible for enforcing the law, could be imputed to have known about it. GEO argued that the state was acting in bad faith in filing the lawsuit against the $1-a-day pay rate for immigration detainees while employing state prison inmates in a variety of jobs that also pay significantly below minimum wage. Bryan rejected that argument, finding it was not relevant since the state’s practice is authorized by statute, not policy.

Mar 9, 2019 tacomaweekly.com
Washington: City Council drafts letter about GEO
Mayor Victoria Woodards and Tacoma City Council are working on a draft of a letter to Congress expressing concerns about Northwest Detention Center. The matter was discussed during the March 5 study session. The mayor distributed copies of her letter, which is still in draft form. The opening paragraph reads as follows: “Among my colleagues and I, we continue to hear concerns daily about the Northwest Detention Center. Through reports from citizens and community leaders, we are knowledgeable of the breaches of health, safety, civil rights and human dignity in the detention center. The immigration incarceration system endangers 38,153 men, women and children every single day – 1,575 adults at this center in our city. As long as this facility is in our city, we will seek every means possible to ensure the rights, dignity, health and safety of the detainees are protected. We can do better for these 1,575 individuals who have been brought into our community. We call on you to be partner with us in making that commitment.” Councilmember Lillian Hunter described a tour of the facility she took last fall with Councilmember Conor McCarthy. They met with officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO Group, the company that operates the detention center for the federal agency. Hunter said efforts toward reform of immigration policies were hampered by the recent government shutdown. Hunter mentioned that she and other councilmembers had been working on their own letter on the subject. McCarthy said the council cannot change federal policy, but it can attempt to influence those who do. He wants to ensure that detainees have adequate food and are treated humanely. Councilmember Katherine Ushka said the city’s Commission on Immigrant and Refugee Affairs should offer feedback on the letter. Councilmember Chris Beale said he also wants the Commission to participate in the process. “The letter would mean a tremendous amount to them.”

Dec 12, 2018 kiro7.com
Judge refuses to dismiss wage effort at immigration jail
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge has once again refused to dismiss a Washington state effort to force The GEO Group to pay detainees minimum wage for work performed at an immigration jail in Tacoma. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan issued the ruling Monday, saying the for-profit private prison company had not shown that it was protected from such claims by virtue of being a federal government contractor. Bryan previously rejected GEO's arguments that Washington's minimum wage law is overridden by federal law prohibiting the employment of immigrants in the country illegally and that the lawsuit should be dismissed because it failed to name the federal government as a defendant. GEO pays detainees at its Northwest Detention Center $1 per day to volunteer for tasks such as janitorial or kitchen work. Washington's minimum wage is $11 per hour. Attorney General Bob Ferguson wants GEO to give up the profits it has made by relying on detainee labor over the past decade - potentially millions of dollars.

Nov 26, 2018 seattletimes.com
Russian asylum-seeker dies after going on hunger strike while in ICE detention in Tacoma
Local immigrants’-rights advocates are demanding an investigation into the death of a Russian asylum-seeker after he went on a hunger strike for almost three months at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Amar Mergensana, 40, was pronounced dead at 6:05 p.m. Saturday at Tacoma’s St. Joseph Medical Center, according to the Pierce County medical examiner. Mergensana had been moved from the detention center to St. Joseph on Nov. 15 after being found unconscious. Media reports at the time erroneously reported that Mergensana had died. The Pierce County medical examiner has yet to conduct an autopsy or determine the cause of death, said Ryann Sale, an investigator with the Medical Examiner’s Office. A spokesperson with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the agency plans to issue a statement about Mergensana’s death by Monday. In a statement issued last Wednesday, ICE said Mergensana had remained in good physical health and had been monitored daily by medical professionals. The agency said he had started eating fruit and drinking meal replacement shakes on Sept. 19 and had had consumed enough calories by Oct. 16 to be taken off hunger strike status. However, ICE added, it didn’t release the timeline of his strike status because he threatened to resume the hunger strike should if its end was made public. Mergensana came to the United States in December, crossing into the country from Mexico near San Diego, according to Maru Mora-Villalpando, an organizer with The Northwest Detention Center Resistance (NWDC Resistance). Mergensana told advocates he was fleeing violence in Russia. He “said he was afraid of going back, and that he was afraid of the [Russian] government,” said Mora-Villalpando, whose organization met with Mergensana during his 86-day hunger strike. Mergensana applied for asylum soon after crossing the border, but was detained by ICE and sent to the Tacoma detention center to await deportation, according to a statement from NWDC Resistance. There, Mergensana started a hunger strike to protest conditions at the center, a privately run facility owned by the company GEO Group. Mora-Villalpando and other immigration advocates blamed ICE and the Northwest Detention Center for Mergensana’s death. Despite being on a hunger strike, Mora-Villalpando said Mergensana was kept in solitary confinement at the detention center rather than at a medical facility where his condition could have been observed. Delivered bright and early weekday mornings, this email provides a quick overview of top stories and need-to-know news. Mora-Villalpando said her organization wants Mergensana’s death to be investigated by the state as well as by the city of Tacoma, which has licensing authority over the detention center. She said the group was holding a vigil for Mergensana Sunday night at St. Joseph Medical Center and was planning a second vigil at 7 p.m. Monday at the detention center.

Sep 27, 2018 kiro7.com
Tacoma gets a win in effort to keep the Northwest Detention Center from growing
The city of Tacoma won a battle last week in its effort to prevent the immigration detention center on the Tideflats from expanding. Earlier this year, the city put regulations on correctional and detention facilities that would prevent the Northwest Detention Center from adding to the 1,575 beds it has for detaining people whose immigration status is in question. The regulations were challenged by GEO Group, the private company that owns and operates the facility under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Geo appealed to the state’s Growth Management Hearings Board and sued the city in federal court. The lawsuit is pending. On Thursday, the hearings board upheld the city regulations. The company did not respond to a News Tribune inquiry about the board’s decision. GEO has 30 days to appeal, sending the issue to the state Court of Appeals, said Steve Victor, the attorney for the city who is handling the matter. He also noted the ruling could affect the federal lawsuit. “I can’t predict what at this point,” he added. GEO is fighting an ordinance the city passed in February that prevents the detention center from adding beds, requires a rigorous permitting process for new correctional or detention facilities and severely limits where detention facilities can be sited. The company argued that under state law the detention center qualifies as an “essential public facility,” and that therefore the regulations violated the Growth Management Act. The hearings board disagreed, noting in its written decision that state law that defines “essential public facilities” references “state and local correctional facilities,” but not federal ones. Victor said the ruling means the regulations “are valid exercises of the city’s land-use authority.” “... At least for purposes of land use,” he said, “under the Growth Management Act, the Northwest Detention Center is not different from any other business in Tacoma, subject to the zoning rules of any other business.” Jorge Baron, director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, said he welcomed the board’s ruling. “I’m glad that the board rejected their argument that they fall under this category,” he said. “Here we have a situation where a contractor is trying to operate here in our state, our local communities, and it’s saying: ‘We’re in this exception zone.’” Victor said the facility can keep operating at its current size, and that it has not applied to add beds in recent years. The City Council started looking into limiting potential expansion of the detention center in early 2017, after President Donald Trump took office and increased deportations. The board’s ruling noted that the facility “... is presently unpopular with the City’s elected officials, in stark contrast to the enthusiasm with which it was initially sited.” City Councilman Ryan Mello said Tuesday of the Tideflats location: “We don’t think it’s an appropriate place for people to live or be detained. ... It’s not consistent with it being land that is poised for manufacturing and industrial jobs.” GEO has argued that “banning” the detention center won’t change federal immigration policy, and that, without the center, detainees could be transferred out of state.

Sep 9, 2018 thenewstribune.com
Hunger strikers sue to prohibit forced feeding at Tacoma immigration detention center
Hunger strikers, including one who reportedly hasn’t eaten for nearly a month, have sued to prevent being force-fed as they protest conditions at the immigration detention center on the Tacoma Tideflats. Northwest Detention Center detainees Viacheslav Poliakov and Raquel Martinez Diaz asked U.S. District Court Judge Benjamin Settle last week for an order to prohibit them being force fed, They also sought to keep hunger strikers from being threatened with segregation or being put in solitary confinement for their protests. Settle canceled a hearing in the case Tuesday, and plans to issue a written decision, according to court records. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement argues it hasn’t requested force-feeding orders for either detainee, but that it shouldn’t be prevented from doing so. If the agency did ask for an order, it would be “a necessary intervention so ICE can safeguard the health and well-being of its detainees,” the department said in a response to the lawsuit. “Furthermore, courts in this District, including this Court, have granted such orders on at least six occasions.” Martinez Diaz has been eating regularly, and Poliakov is accepting fluids and medical monitoring, ICE told the court. Supporters say at least four detainees are on hunger strikes — one joined Thursday — and that Poliakov has not eaten for 28 days. That seemed to match ICE’s timeline for Poliakov’s hunger strike, which the agency said it learned of Aug. 22. One of the strikers’ main demands is better access to medical care, Maru Mora Villalpando, a representative of an activist group that protests the facility and supports the striking detainees, told reporters Tuesday outside the federal courthouse in Tacoma. She said they also want “reunification with their children, humane treatment and ending the retaliation for joining the hunger strike, as well as getting minimum wage for the work that they perform there.” Detainees have held other hunger strikes in recent years to protest conditions at the facility, which is owned and operated by a private contractor, the GEO group. The lawsuit, filed Sept. 13, argues that Poliakov and Martinez Diaz were using their First Amendment rights “by engaging in a hunger strike to express their views about national immigration policies and how detainees were being treated at the NWDC.” Poliakov is 23, and Martinez Diaz in about 40, their attorneys said. Poliakov is a Russian citizen, who has been at the detention center since April 3, ICE told the court. He was ordered deported Aug. 30, and has until Oct. 1 to appeal the decision. Martinez Diaz is a Mexican citizen taken into ICE custody Aug. 16, and is awaiting deportation proceedings, according to the agency. Guards violated the pair’s constitutional rights, the detainees allege, by threatening them with solitary confinement, forced feeding and problems for their immigration cases. “Those threats have been fulfilled in the past,” Edward Alexander, one of the attorneys representing the detainees, told reporters. “They are not idle threats.” Such threats caused many other detainees to quit the hunger strike recently, he said. Asked about Poliakov’s condition, another attorney for the detainees, Junga Subedar told reporters: “He’s really in bad shape. ... He is adamant about going on, continuing on the hunger strike, even though it weakens him every day.” ICE’s court filing said Poliakov’s reasons for his hunger strike were “his dissatisfaction with the food, his insomnia and his difficulty in retaining an attorney to prepare for his upcoming immigration court date.” He’s in a medical unit, where he has access to a telephone, recreation yard, television and electronic tablets, the agency said. ICE defines a hunger strike as when someone misses nine meals in a row, which officials told the court is not the case with Martinez Diaz. The agency argued that the purpose of immigration detention is to make sure detainees are present when they’re to be deported. “The public interest would not be served by allowing detainees to either die or medically deteriorate while detained,” ICE wrote the court. Another argument officials gave: “If detainees are allowed to die or suffer permanent harm to themselves as a result of a hunger strike, other detainees will likely infer that ICE is indifferent to their well-being, thereby increasing the likelihood of disorderly conduct.”

July 11, 2018 cnn.com
Migrants describe hunger and solitary confinement at for-profit detention center
The 40-year-old mother found herself in solitary confinement, locked in a cell behind a steel door for 23 hours a day, according to her legal filing and attorney. The woman, identified in court documents only by the initials R.M., was taken into custody in May while crossing the border illegally to seek asylum. She was separated from her teenage daughter. Now, she's being held at a privately run immigrant detention facility -- effectively, a prison -- known as the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. The facility, which US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said held 1,495 detainees as of June 30, sits within a toxic sludge field and EPA Superfund site where residential construction has been barred. It has been the target of more than a dozen hunger strikes in recent years, each involving from a dozen to hundreds of detainees, over complaints of inadequate food and medical care, among other issues. Its operator, Florida-based The GEO Group, is fighting two lawsuits in Washington over alleged labor-law violations for a dollar-a-day migrant detainee work program it calls voluntary. And the center has in recent years faced one of the highest number of complaints about alleged physical and sexual assaults against detainees of any facility of its kind in the nation, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement data obtained through public records requests by the advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants. GEO Group declined CNN's requests for an interview. In emailed responses, spokesman Pablo Paez defended the company's record in detaining immigrants and said it complies with "performance-based standards set by the Federal government" and accreditation guidelines. "Our employees are proud of our record in managing the Tacoma ICE Processing Center with high-quality, culturally responsive services in a safe, secure, and humane environment," Paez said. "Members of our team strive to treat all of those entrusted to our care with compassion, dignity, and respect." The Trump administration's aggressive immigration enforcement strategy has been a financial boon for GEO Group, which along with its affiliates contributed more than half a million dollars to then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 campaign and his inaugural committee, according to Federal Election Commission data. The private-prison industry as a whole is benefiting from Trump's border policies. But those lucrative business opportunities are also drawing increased public and legal scrutiny to a system that, advocates say, treats detainees cruelly. And, thanks to the hunger strikes and a grass-roots protest campaign, the public spotlight is now falling on the Northwest Detention Center. R.M. is one in a wave of new detainees sent thousands of miles to the facility over the last few weeks. Many of these recent arrivals were, like her, separated from their children at the border, according to Jorge Baron, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, which provides legal services to detainees. The mother arrived at the detention center in the midst of a chickenpox outbreak there, according to her attorney, Luis Cortes Romero. When she was tested for the disease, the result was inconclusive. So, though she showed no symptoms, the center's staff quarantined her -- not by sending her to the medical unit but by putting her in what GEO Group calls "segregation," meaning she has been confined alone in her cell for all but one hour a day and given almost no access to telephones or other communication, Cortes Romero said. GEO Group said that medical care at the center is provided by ICE's Health Services Corps and that GEO Group "has no involvement in provision of these services." R.M. crossed the Rio Grande south of McAllen, Texas, with her 15-year-old daughter on May 18, flagging down the first Border Patrol agents they saw, Cortes Romero said. She told them they were seeking asylum because of threats against their lives in El Salvador. Agents quickly separated the two. She said one agent mocked her over her fears that she would not see her 15-year-old again, Cortes Romero said in a declaration. A Border Patrol spokesman declined comment on the allegation, citing pending litigation. As of July 5, Cortes Romero said, his client "has been able to talk to her daughter one time, for one minute, and both of them were crying, so they didn't get a lot of words out." In recent weeks, amid intense public debate over the Trump administration's now-reversed policy of separating all children from parents at the border, the protests outside the Northwest Detention Center have escalated. On June 23, one group of protesters set up a camp in front of the center, their tents lining the public space outside the center's fence. Three days later, Tacoma police arrested 10 people there after one youth allegedly blocked the road in front of a police car with a shopping cart. The next day, the city ordered protesters to clear out their tents within 24 hours. But another protest -- with mariachis -- is planned for Saturday, July 14, organizers said. The detention center sits on the Tacoma Tideflats, in an industrial area where residential construction is otherwise barred because it sits within a toxic sludge field and Superfund site deemed by the EPA to have "widespread contamination" of water and soil. The center's neighbors include a methanol plant and a liquified natural gas facility. As the Tacoma Tribune reported, despite environmental concerns, Tacoma city officials supported locating the center on this 16-acre site when it was built in the early 2000s. The EPA and Washington Department of Ecology permitted construction as long as the center did not use groundwater from the site or disturb an engineered cap sealing hazardous substances underground. In 2009, the EPA looked into community concerns that excavation during GEO Group's expansion of the center to house 553 more people might have exposed workers and detainees to contamination from mercury and naphthalene vapors. The EPA said that GEO Group improperly dug into the ground without notifying the state Department of Ecology but hadn't broken through the engineered cap. It didn't substantiate any health risks from the expansion. In March, the city council passed an ordinance to prevent the Northwest Detention Center from expanding, along with interim measures to determine whether, long term, the facility is compatible with zoning policies for the area. GEO Group has filed a federal suit contesting the city's decision to, in effect, re-zone an existing operation. The detention center opened in 2004. In 2008, a report by the Seattle University School of Law and human rights group OneAmerica, based on dozens of interviews with detainees, alleged frequent misconduct by guards, including physical and verbal abuse and sexual harassment. It described outbreaks of food poisoning, including one in 2007 that sickened more than 300 people; it said detainees often had to wait as long as two weeks to receive medical care; it detailed servings of food so paltry that 80% of detainees said they were hungry after every meal. It also described the food as sometimes rotten or bug-infested. One man who weighed 190 pounds when he entered the center lost 50 pounds over two years in detention, the report said. ICE, at the time, disputed the report. A spokeswoman told the Seattle Times it was "filled with inaccuracies and vague allegations." The center has been subject to more complaints alleging sexual and physical assaults against detainees than all but three of the more than 200 Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities around the country, according to a review of ICE data from 2012 through 2016, by nonprofit Freedom for Immigrants. And for four years, detainees there have engaged in one hunger strike after another, despite what they describe as ongoing retaliation by GEO Group and ICE. Manuel Abrego, who was released from the Northwest Detention Center in April after being put in solitary for taking part in a hunger strike, sees such treatment at the center as "psychological torture." Abrego, who is from El Salvador, was 15 when he came to Seattle with his parents in 1999, under Temporary Protected Status. That's a status that can be granted to foreigners who are unable to return to their countries because of ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters or other special circumstances. He had lived in Seattle since then, working as a cook in recent years. He's married to a US citizen and has two daughters, also US citizens, from an earlier marriage. But a conviction on an attempted assault charge resulting from a dispute with an acquaintance led to his being turned over to ICE in late 2016. He said he and many detainees think they have been treated poorly and given little information as a way to get them to give up and agree to deportation. Abrego, 34, was released from the center this spring after the ACLU intervened in his case. He is under ICE supervision and still faces deportation, but he is seeking a work permit and permission to stay. He described the conditions in a recent interview with CNN "The food they gave us was not enough to keep the hunger away," he said. Vegetables and fruit were rarely available. "We'd get sandwiches for lunch; the meat would still be frozen. Food that was supposed to be hot wasn't." Because there was never enough to eat, Abrego said, detainees would ask their families for money to buy overpriced food at the commissary. Those who couldn't get funds from their families had to try to earn money by volunteering for the center's work program. "They said it's voluntary, ... but you're in a position where you have no choice," he said. "You might clean all night and get a dollar or a bag of chips." That's why, he said, "we organized ourselves. We said, they can't keep treating us this way." The hunger strikes, he said, led to only the briefest of changes. "They'd make the food better to make us stop, give us chicken," Abrego said. "But if you stop, then the food gets worse. It's like a retaliation." Paez, Geo Group's spokesman, said the company "strongly refutes these baseless allegations" and that the center "provides culturally responsive, nutritious meals three times daily." He also said that commissary services are provided by a vendor whose prices are reviewed and approved by ICE. ICE spokeswoman Carissa Cutrell did not address the allegations specifically but said "ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care. The agency is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement." Abrego's account matches complaints by other inmates dating back more than a decade. He said while he was at the center, four detainees were beaten after refusing to eat a meal, with no repercussions for the guards. "They can hit us and nothing happens," he said. One of those allegedly beaten, Jesus Chavez Flores, is pursuing a federal lawsuit with the help of the ACLU against ICE and GEO Group. He alleges he was punched in the eye by a guard and placed into solitary confinement for participating in a hunger strike in February. Chavez, a married father of five from Mexico, was arrested by police in Toppenish, Washington, in December for walking in public with an open beer and was then turned over to ICE, according to Amy Roe, an ACLU spokeswoman. He is still being held at the Northwest Detention Center. GEO Group denied Chavez's allegations. In a motion to dismiss the suit, the company's attorneys called his complaint false. "(He) appears to have been accidentally clipped, possibly by a detention officer," attorneys for GEO Group stated. They also denied that Chavez was disciplined for taking part in a hunger strike. Just two years ago, GEO Group and other private-prison companies saw grim prospects ahead. Several lawsuits over wrongful deaths and many other issues had led to growing public and political concerns over conditions in private prisons. These concerns came to a head in the waning months of the Obama administration. In August of 2016, the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General released a report concluding that, compared with federal facilities, private prisons had higher rates of assault, contraband and lockdowns. The report also identified problems with overuse of solitary confinement and poor medical care. A few weeks later, Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates issued a memo directing the federal Bureau of Prisons to phase out the use of private prisons as existing contracts expired. The top private-prison companies have long been active politically. In the 2016 election cycle, GEO Group alone donated more than $1.2 million to candidates, parties and outside interest groups, with other operators, such as CoreCivic (then named Corrections Corp. of America) and Management & Training Corp. donating about $317,000, according to Federal Election Commission records analyzed by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit that tracks spending in US politics. GEO Group donated $275,000 to a Trump-aligned super PAC and $250,000 to Trump's inaugural committee, according to FEC data. It also spent $1.7 million in lobbying last year, including $550,000 through Ballard Partners, a firm run by former Trump campaign Florida finance chair Brian Ballard. GEO Group's spokesman, Paez, said in an email response that "we do not take a position on, or advocate for or against, criminal justice, sentencing, immigration enforcement or detention policies." Within weeks of Trump's inauguration, a White House memo to Homeland Security leaked, describing plans to nearly double immigration detention housing to handle more than 80,000 people a night, as first reported by the Los Angeles Times. The following month, newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Yates memo. GEO Group's share price, which had fallen to as low as $13 the day the Yates memo was released, soared, climbing by late April to $34.12 a share. That month, GEO Group was awarded the first new immigration detention contract under the Trump administration, a 10-year agreement for a 1,000-bed facility in Conroe, Texas, expected to generate $44 million a year in revenues. In May 2017, the Bureau of Prisons awarded GEO Group a pair of 10-year contracts, expected to generate $66.4 million a year in revenues, to house immigrants convicted of crimes. Today, GEO Group operates 141 prisons, detention centers and community re-entry facilities. In October, the company moved its annual leadership conference from Boca Raton, Florida, where it is headquartered, to the Trump National Doral, a Miami golf resort owned by the President. One of the biggest points of conflict between GEO Group and the immigrants at Northwest Detention Center is over what the company terms its "Voluntary Work Program," under which detainees do cleaning, laundry, kitchen and other jobs. GEO Group is fighting two lawsuits in federal court -- one filed by the state of Washington -- that accuse it of violating labor laws by paying a dollar a day or less, regardless of how many hours they work, to detained migrants whose labor is essential to keep the Northwest Detention Center running. According to the Washington attorney general's office, at the Northwest Detention Center, "Detainees described working through the night buffing floors and painting walls in exchange for chips and candy." Similar suits target four other detention centers run by GEO Group or another private-prison operator. One suit, against a GEO Group facility in Colorado, noted that the company employed only one janitor on staff there, relying on its captive migrant workers to do almost all the work. Based on court filings and its 2015 ICE contract, GEO Group appears to save at least $10 million a year at its Tacoma facility through the work program, compared to paying standard wages. Currently, it is reimbursed by ICE for the dollar a day it pays each immigrant detainee worker. GEO Group's emailed response to an interview request stated that the wage rates for the "Voluntary Work Program" are stipulated under guidelines set by Congress and detention standards for all ICE detention facilities and that, as a federal contractor, GEO is required to abide by those standards. The company argued in court papers that the work opportunities were strictly voluntary and that GEO "incurred costs and expenses" for caring for the detainees in the program. In practice, ICE detention facilities operate with little oversight or accountability, according to Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General. In a June 26 report, it concluded that inspections and on-site monitoring by ICE and its contractors don't ensure that facilities actually comply with federal detention standards or correct problems. "Moreover, ICE does not adequately follow up on identified deficiencies or consistently hold facilities accountable for correcting them," the OIG report said. "Even well documented deficiencies that facilities commit to fixing routinely remain uncorrected for years." It cited examples of inspectors contracted by ICE submitting false information that made detention facilities look like they were following regulations when they weren't. The inspector general found a slew of other problems that "include facilities failing to notify ICE about alleged or proven sexual assaults" and conducting strip searches with no reasonable suspicion. In a letter responding to the report, ICE agreed with the findings and said it would take steps to improve inspections and oversight. At the Northwest Detention Center, R.M. had to wear a surgical mask on Monday to speak with her attorney as a precaution against spreading chickenpox, which she still had showed no signs of having contracted. She and many other mothers anxiously await promised reunification with their children. "A lot of the mothers are really confused," about what is going on, Cortes Romero, the attorney, said. Baron, the Northwest Immigrants Right Project executive director, said many parents have been held for weeks without getting asylum interviews or receiving any information about whether or when they'll see their children again. R.M. got her interview with an asylum officer last week at the detention center, said Cortes Romero. She is scheduled for a court hearing on Wednesday to determine whether she should be released from custody. This story was updated to reflect additional comments from GEO Group received after publication and a statement from an ICE spokeswoman.

Mar 24, 2018 muckrock.com
GEO Group sues Washington to keep privately run immigration detention center open
The for-profit prison giant is fighting the City of Tacoma over zoning changes that would push them out. Yesterday, the GEO Group, one of the world’s largest for-profit prison companies, decided to push back against attempts in the the American Northwest to limit their immigrant detention operations, filing suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against the City of Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma is home to the only detention facility in the state dedicated exclusively to holding violators of immigration and entry laws, the Northwest Detention Center. Washington is just one of the West Coast states actively challenging the immigration policies of the current Presidential administration. It became one of the first to oppose President Trump’s stance on entries from particular countries. In September, the Attorney General announced that it would be cracking down on private prison use of inmate labor; they’ve sued the GEO Group for failure to abide by the state’s minimum wage laws, arguing that, despite the detainees’ positions under federal jurisdiction, the $1-a-day compensation their detainees are currently receiving is in violation of the state’s $11 minimum wage rate. And last year, the City of Tacoma adopted an Interim Emergency Ordinance, placing restrictions on zoning that would hinge on the difference between a correctional facility and a detention facility, rendering the use of NWDC for immigration-related holdings a violation of City regulations. The current contract between GEO Group and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for the Tacoma facility is set to expire on September 27, 2018; the agency has “the option to extend the contract for seven additional one-year periods through September 27, 2025.” In response to what they’re calling the City’s “about-face” - reaffirmed most recently with February’s Ordinance No. 28491 - GEO Group is leveling a series of claims against the Tacoma, insisting that the City’s previous statements of support and “animosity towards current federal immigration policy” should prevent the City Council from making any such changes to their zoning restrictions. As part of their “factual allegations,” GEO Group notes that once-upon-a-time the City had supported the facility’s previous owner, Correctional Services Corporation, and its “excellent reputation” when it first discussed opening the detention center in 2000. However, this was before that company won the distinction of “largest fine levied for violation of lobbying laws” when it was penalized for inappropriately-reporting gifts to New York State legislators in 2003; it was also beforee CSC was acquired by GEO Group, which has a reputation of its own. Tacoma has about three weeks to provide a response to the latest legal challenge to the evolving relationship between public and private interests in the Evergreen State.

Dec 7, 2017 seattletimes.com
Judge: State can sue detention center over inmate pay
SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state can pursue its lawsuit seeking to force one of the nation’s largest privately run immigration detention centers to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees, a federal judge in Tacoma ruled Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan denied the GEO Group’s motion to dismiss the case. The for-profit company runs the Northwest Detention Center, a 1,575-bed facility in Tacoma where detainees are held pending deportation proceedings. In a related case, Bryan also declined to dismiss a complaint by a former detainee named Chao Chen, who seeks class-action status — and back pay — on behalf of all Northwest Detention Center detainees who have performed work in the past three years. GEO pays detainees $1 per day to volunteer for tasks such as janitorial or kitchen work. Washington’s minimum wage is $11 per hour. The state wants GEO to give up the profits it has made by relying on detainee labor over the past decade — potentially millions of dollars. The judge said GEO failed to show that Washington state’s minimum wage law, to the extent it applies to detainees, is overridden by federal law prohibiting the employment of people who entered the county illegally. That law says it’s up to the federal government, not the states, to impose sanctions on those who hire people who entered the country illegally. However, Bryan ruled, requiring GEO to pay minimum wage — and subjecting it to penalties if it fails to — do not amount to such prohibited sanctions. “Even if, as Defendant argues, the provisions of the Washington Minimum Wage Act are construed as ‘sanctions,’ they would not be imposed on account of employers hiring unauthorized aliens, but rather because of the failure to pay the prevailing minimum wage,” he wrote. However, the judge also said it was too soon to resolve some of GEO’s other arguments. Among them is that Washington’s minimum wage law is pre-empted for another reason: that it would hurt federal interests by increasing costs to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, for whom GEO runs the detention center, and require the company to abide by a patchwork of state minimum wage laws. GEO had also argued that the state doesn’t have authority to bring the lawsuit. Bryan rejected that, saying Washington’s interest in the well-being of its residents gave it such authority. The company also asserted that it does not have to pay minimum wage because the detainees aren’t required to work. But the judge said it was premature for him to determine if that was truly the case, considering that the detainees are in custody, paid just $1 per day, and helping to enrich a private corporation. During oral arguments last month, the Washington Attorney General’s Office said it is entitled to enforce the minimum wage law against GEO just as it’s entitled to enforce it against any other company in Washington. While the state has determined that its own prisons don’t have to pay inmates minimum wage, it’s made no such determinations about private detention centers, said assistant attorney general Marsha Chien. Having the detainees perform that work so cheaply fills jobs that would otherwise go to local residents, Chien said. While keeping labor costs down at a state prison benefits taxpayers, keeping them down at the private detention center benefits only GEO, she said. The state says GEO’s contract with ICE requires it to abide by state and local laws — and that “detainees shall not be used to perform the responsibilities or duties of an employee of the contractor.”

Nov 21, 2017 .usnews.com
GEO Group Seeks Dismissal of Lawsuit Over Detainee Pay
TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — A federal judge is considering whether to throw out two lawsuits, including one by the state of Washington, that seek to force one of the nation's largest privately run immigration detention centers to pay minimum wage, rather than $1 per day, for work done by detainees. The GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan to dismiss the cases, saying Washington doesn't have authority to bring the lawsuit and that the state's minimum wage law is overridden by Congress' decision to set rates for work performed by detainees. "This is detention. It's not a competitive work environment," GEO attorney Joan Mell told the judge during arguments Monday. GEO pays detainees who volunteer for tasks such as janitorial, laundry or kitchen work $1 day. Washington's minimum wage is $11 per hour. The Washington Attorney General's Office argued that it is entitled to enforce the minimum wage law against GEO just as it's entitled to enforce it against any other company in Washington. While the state has determined that its own prisons don't have to pay inmates minimum wage, it's made no such determinations about private detention facilities, said assistant attorney general Marsha Chien. Having the detainees perform that work so cheaply fills jobs that would otherwise go to local residents, Chien said. While keeping labor costs down at a state prison benefits taxpayers, keeping them down at the private detention center benefits only GEO, she said. The state wants GEO to give up the profits it has made by relying on detainee labor over the past decade — potentially millions of dollars. "We care about the employment opportunities of those within our community," Chien told the judge. A separate lawsuit, brought by a former detainee named Chao Chen, seeks class-action status — and back pay — on behalf of all Northwest Detention Center detainees who have performed work in the past three years. The judge consolidated the cases for purposes of Monday's arguments. GEO has operated the 1,500 bed detention center since 2004 under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The company says Congress long ago determined that federal immigration detainees would be paid $1 per day for work performed — a rate Congress last expressly endorsed in 1978 — and that under its contract with ICE, it pays at least that much. The rate can't be changed without ICE's approval, it says. Further, Mell argued, the workers volunteer for duty. "What if all the detainees refused to do any work?" Bryan asked. "Good," Mell said. "They can sit there." Andrew Free, an attorney for Chen, disputed that, noting that detainees have been placed in solitary confinement for inciting work stoppages. The state says GEO's contract with ICE requires it to abide by state and local laws — and that "detainees shall not be used to perform the responsibilities or duties of an employee of the contractor." Some of the questions Bryan asked suggested he might not be ready to dismiss the cases, which were filed this year and remain in their early stages. He noted that several factual issues may remain to be determined, including whether the detainees should be considered employees. "It seems to me they have many of the hallmarks of employment," he told Mell. Bryan said he expects to rule next week on whether to dismiss the cases.

Oct 2, 2017 seattletimes.com
Private immigration detention center must follow state laws
SOME would call working for chips and candy or $1 a day cruel and unusual punishment. But Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has another description for the way immigrants are paid at the for-profit detention center in Tacoma: against the law. Ferguson has filed a lawsuit demanding the multibillion-dollar corporation that runs the Northwest Detention Center pay its detainee workers nothing less than the state minimum wage, which is currently $11 an hour. He bases the lawsuit on the very agreement the federal government has with The GEO Group to operate the only privately run detention center in Washington state. It says GEO must comply with state and local laws and codes. Immigrants held in the Tacoma center until their cases can be resolved may or may not be guilty of breaking any law. If they work while staying in the facility, they should be paid the minimum wage. State prisons also do not pay minimum wage to inmates, but the wage law includes an exemption for state prisons and local jails and those inmates already have been convicted of a crime. In the lawsuit filed last week in Pierce County Superior Court, Ferguson accused The GEO Group, which U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays about $100 per detainee a day, of exploiting workers for its own profits. GEO dismisses the allegations as baseless. The company expects to make up to $57 million a year when the Tacoma facility is at is full capacity of 1,575 detainees. A similar lawsuit against a GEO detention facility in Aurora, Colorado, is making its way through U.S. District Court in Denver. As the detainees’ attorney, Nina DiSalvo, told The Denver Post, “There is a big difference between someone convicted of murder or rape and someone being held on a civil detainer for possible deportation.” Not only is GEO taking advantage of detainees, this issue is just the tip of the iceberg on troubles in the for-profit private detention system. A 2016 report from the Federal Bureau of Prisons found privately run prisons have more safety and security problems, more inmate and staff assaults, and more lockdowns, to name just a few of the findings. Detainees at the Northwest Detention Center have held a number of hunger strikes, complaining of the work policy, as well as inadequate food, poor medical care and mistreatment by guards. Although ICE has said it’s more efficient to have a private company run its detention center, efficiency does not trump human rights or obeying the law.

Sep 28, 2017 seattletimes.com
2nd lawsuit says Tacoma detention center must pay minimum wage
A second lawsuit is challenging the failure of one of the nation’s largest private immigration jails to pay detainees minimum wage for the work they perform. Former detainee Chao Chen filed the class-action federal lawsuit Tuesday against The GEO Group, the for-profit company that operates the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the company in state court last week, alleging violations of Washington’s minimum wage law. GEO says the center has a volunteer work program and minimum wages rates and standards specified exclusively by the federal government under standards set for detainees in 2011. The company pays $1 per day to detainees for kitchen, cleaning and janitorial tasks at the 1,500-bed facility. Chen, a Chinese citizen who was detained from 2014 to 2016, is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. and lives in Renton.

Sep 21, 2017 motherjones.com
Washington Just Sued a Giant Private Prison Company for Paying Immigrant Workers $1 Per Day
Thousands of immigrant detainees were paid $1 per day or, in some cases, with extra food as compensation for keeping one of the country’s largest for-profit immigration detention centers running, according to a lawsuit filed today by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The lawsuit targets the GEO Group, one of the country’s two most profitable private prison companies, over the controversial work program, which Ferguson says has violated the state’s minimum wage policy since it was implemented in 2005. Each day, Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center houses up to 1,575 detainees in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody as they wait for deportation or to appear before a judge to resolve their immigration case. While in custody, the detainees can opt into a voluntary work program in which, according to the complaint, they may be assigned to prepare, cook, or serve food, operate the laundry service, clean living areas and bathrooms, paint walls, or buff floors. Detainees perform “virtually all non-security functions” at the facility, the AG’s press release says. No matter how many hours they work, GEO pays them $1 per day or “in snack food such as chicken, potato chips, soda, and/or candy,” the complaint alleges. Meanwhile, ICE pays GEO $115.95 per detainee per day to hold the vast majority of the people in the Tacoma detention center. Ferguson is accusing GEO of violating Washington state’s minimum wage laws, which currently require workers to be paid a minimum of $11 per hour. He claims that by systematically underpaying detainees, GEO profited from illegal activity. While inmates and residents of state, county, or municipal detention centers are exempted from the minimum wage under state law, Ferguson argues that the detainees held in the private, for profit-detention center are not exempt—and that GEO now has to pay up. The AG wants the court to order GEO to start paying detainee laborers minimum wage moving forward and also to give up “millions in ill-gotten profits” produced by the work scheme since 2005. The funds would likely go into an account “dedicated to supporting people detained in” the Northwest Detention Center, which is the only private immigration detention facility in the state, according to the AG’s office. It’s not the first time GEO’s dollar-a-day program has come under fire. In February, a federal judge ruled that a similar challenge brought by detainees in the company’s Aurora, Colorado, facility could proceed as a class action. In that case, detainees alleged that the company forced them to clean the facility without any pay, threatening them with solitary confinement if they refused, and that GEO “unjustly enriched” itself by paying them for other labor under the same dollar-a-day “voluntary work program” that exists at Tacoma. As I reported back in April, here’s a rough estimate of how much money the company saved through to its dollar-a-day policy at the Colorado facility: During a deposition, GEO’s assistant business manager at Aurora testified that if there were no “voluntary workers” like Argueta [one of the plaintiffs], the company would need to bring in additional officers, paid at hourly wages set by rules in GEO’s contract, to get the same work done. So how much would the company have to shell out if it didn’t rely on cheap detainee labor? Under GEO’s contract with ICE, which incorporated federal wage regulations, the lowest allowable employee wage at the Aurora facility was $10.90 an hour for food service workers. A typical shift in the voluntary work program lasted approximately seven hours, according to the detainee work program policy—so if GEO had hired additional employees to do the work, it would have cost the company nearly $76.30 per shift. (That’s a lowball estimate, given that some detainees worked jobs that would have paid significantly more.) Instead, they spent $1. That translates to huge cost savings. Take, for example, November 2012, when detainees took hundreds of voluntary work program shifts. If GEO had hired employees to do those jobs instead, the company would have spent more than $125,000 in wages and benefits that month. GEO’s actual payments: $1,680. Despite the money likely saved by not paying detainees minimum wage, litigating and ending the dollar-a-day program could threaten the private prison company’s bottom line. In later filings in the Colorado case, GEO’s lawyers said the class action lawsuit posed a “potentially catastrophic risk” to the company’s ability to honor its federal contracts. “No entity can ‘easily afford’ litigating a purported 60,000 member class action for monetary relief,” the company’s lawyers wrote. “GEO faces incalculable monetary claims that target policies required by its government contract.” GEO has appealed the class-action status granted to the Colorado lawsuit in April. The case is currently in discovery. In a statement responding to the Washington lawsuit, GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said the company “strongly refutes the baseless and meritless allegations made in this lawsuit, and we intend to vigorously defend our company against these claims.” Paez also maintains that the “minimum wage rates and standards” associated with Tacoma’s voluntary work program are set by the federal government. That’s true to an extent: ICE only reimburses GEO for $1 per detainee work shift in its facilities. But back in February, Colorado District Court Judge John Kane ruled that the company was not compelled to only pay a fee that matched its reimbursement. Earlier this year, hundreds of Tacoma detainees began a hunger strike over the dollar-a-day work program and other conditions, including what they described as bad food, poor access to medical care, high commissary prices, and lengthy immigration proceedings. “It is not just for them to treat us the way they want without them respecting our rights,” detainees wrote in a letter of demands in April. “And if we don’t speak up we’ll always have the same.”

Sep 20, 2017 atg.wa.gov

AG Ferguson sues operator of the Northwest Detention Center for wage violations
TACOMA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson today announced a lawsuit against The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), the second-largest private prison provider in the country, for not paying its workers the minimum wage, netting the company millions in ill-gotten profits. The state’s lawsuit asks the court to order the company to give up these profits. GEO uses immigration detainee labor to perform virtually all non-security functions at Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), the only private detention facility in the state. Since at least 2005, GEO has paid thousands of detainee workers $1 per day or, in some instances, snacks and extra food for labor that is necessary to keep NWDC operational. Washington’s minimum wage is $11 per hour. “A multi-billion dollar corporation is trying to get away with paying its workers $1 per day,” Ferguson said. “That shouldn’t happen in America, and I will not tolerate it happening in Washington. For-profit companies cannot exploit Washington workers.” “The bottom line is that a fair wage should be paid for a day of work,” said Joel Sacks, director of the state Department of Labor and Industries, which regulates wage standards in Washington state The lawsuit, filed today in Pierce County Superior Court, is believed to be the first of its kind brought by a state Attorney General. The state has two claims against GEO. First, the lawsuit accuses GEO of violating Washington’s minimum wage laws. These laws are broadly written and meant to protect as many workers as possible. RCW 49.46.010(k) exempts the following from protections from Washington’s minimum wage laws: “Any resident, inmate, or patient of a state, county, or municipal correctional, detention, treatment or rehabilitative institution.”  There are no exceptions for private, for-profit facilities like NWDC. In contrast with a jail or prison, which house people involved in the criminal justice system and are operated by state or local governments, detainees at NWDC are held in a private, for-profit facility pending civil immigration proceedings. Second, Ferguson also argues that GEO unjustly enriched itself, meaning it profited by its illegal actions exploiting its workers. NWDC has the capacity to house up to 1,575 immigrant detainees. Detainees perform most of the work necessary to run the facility except guarding detainees. This includes preparing and serving food, running the laundry services, performing facility maintenance, and cleaning common areas and restrooms. Detainees report that the general practice is that guards ask for detainee “volunteers” for work. If no one volunteers for certain work, guards will sometimes pick detainees to perform the work. AGO investigators heard many stories from detainees about their concerns regarding work at NWDC. Detainees described working through the night buffing floors and painting walls in exchange for chips and candy. Detainees told investigators that if an officer asks a detainee to work on a special project later than the planned end of the shift, detainees are allowed to stop working but may not receive any pay for their work. Detainees also reported that for some work, GEO does not provide appropriate working gear and that has caused detainees physical pain and discomfort. Detainees’ concerns about being paid $1 per day or being paid in snack food is one of several concerns that detainees raised during multiple hunger strikes in the past year. Located on Tacoma's Tideflats, Northwest Detention Center is the fourth-largest immigration detention center in the country. People are held at the facility while undergoing immigration proceedings, potentially facing deportation. GEO has operated the facility for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2005. The Florida-based company has been in partnership with ICE since the 1980s, and in 2015, ICE renewed GEO's contract for NWDC through 2025. At the time the contract was renewed, GEO projected NWDC would bring in $57 million in revenue every year at full capacity. NWDC is one of 141 correctional and detention facilities operated by the company, which saw revenues exceeding $2 billion in 2016. GEO has faced a variety of lawsuits, including a class action suit by current and former detainees at a Colorado facility alleging forced labor. NWDC has faced its own controversies, including multiple hunger strikes by detainees over living conditions, access to medical care, and other problems at the facility. As many as 750 detainees reportedly participated in one hunger strike earlier this year. Ferguson’s lawsuit asks the court to order GEO to comply with Washington’s minimum wage laws. The lawsuit also asks the court to order GEO to pay the state its costs and fees from bringing the lawsuit, and to give up the profits it made by underpaying its employees over many years. The exact amount will be determined as the lawsuit progresses, but is expected to be in the millions. If the court grants this request, the Attorney General’s Office will likely ask the court to place any monetary award into a constructive trust or cy pres fund. This fund would be dedicated to supporting people detained in NWDC, as well as job seekers in the community surrounding the detention center who may have lost employment opportunities because of GEO’s practices. The defendant will have 20 days from the date they are served to respond to the state’s complaint. Assistant Attorneys General La Rond Baker and Marsha Chien are leading the case for the Attorney General’s Office.

Aug 5, 2017 thenewstribune.com 
Detainees flood unit with toilet water after early morning incident, ICE says
A guard at the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats watched a detainee draw on a sleeping bunkmate’s back Friday morning, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The detainee’s lack of cooperation, as well as the behaviors of others in his residence unit, led guards at the privately operated facility to enter a lockdown, according to a statement from ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. “After the offending detainee refused multiple commands to leave the unit with the officer, guards were required to remove him using minimal force,” Kice wrote. According to Kice, the other detainees refused to return to their bunks, started destroying property, tampering with security cameras and flooding the unit with toilet water. Kice wrote that the lockdown, which included turning off phones and power to the unit, lasted until the detainees in the unit complied during the afternoon. The Northwest Detention Center, the region’s largest immigration detention facility, is owned by the Florida-based for-profit Geo Group. Kice wrote that all use-of-force incidents by ICE officers or contracted personnel are reviewed to make sure all actions are within the agency’s policies. “In the case of this incident, the related review has been completed and it was determined that the proper policies and procedures were followed,” Kice wrote. Immigration rights advocates say the detainees were vocally protesting the physical treatment of the detainee, which led guards to punitively turn off the lights and phones. Advocates from the NWDC Resistance went to the detention center to protest Friday. They said in a news release that the entire facility was locked down, which meant that family members who had driven from hours away were denied visitation.

Apr 11, 2017 wweek.com
Immigrant inmates want more than $1 per day for what critics call "forced labor."
For the second time in three years—and for the first time since President Donald Trump ordered a nationwide immigration crackdown—inmates at the privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement prison in Tacoma, Wash., are protesting conditions there with a hunger strike. Approximately 100 of the 1,500 inmates at the facility refused lunch today and will continue to refusing meals, according to NWDC Resistance, an activist group that led a 2014 hunger strike involving 1,200 inmates. Activists are also rallying outside the prison today. According to an unsigned press release from NWDC Resistance, a letter with inmates' demands circulated prior to the strike and echoed concerns from the 2014 strike, including: expedited hearings, improved quality of food, improved access to medical care, and lowering of exorbitant commissary prices (strikers note that already over-inflated prices on commissary items have recently doubled). Additionally, hunger strikers are asking for an increase in the $1 a day they currently receive for running all of the prison’s basic services. Some have even been denied the $1/day payment, and have been given a bag of chips in exchange for several nights of waxing the prison’s floors. ICE and GEO Group, the private prison contractor that manages NWDC, are targeted by a federal lawsuit in Colorado alleging slave labor practices not unlike those described by the Washington State activists. The activists' announcement continues: “Detention conditions were already terrible under Obama, and from what we’re hearing, they’ve gotten even worse since Trump’s election. We know from past hunger strikes that ICE and GEO are quick to retaliate, and we want the hunger strikers to know that they are not alone.” An ICE regional spokesperson told WW she was looking in to the matter. This post will be updated with ICE's response when the agency provides one. Update 4:20 pm: ICE spokeswoman Rose Richeson supplied the following statement regarding the "purported 'hunger strike' at the Northwest Detention Center." The linked ICE guidelines, dated Dec. 2008, do provide for "involuntarily feed[ing]" after an inmate goes 72 hours without food. “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care. Individuals at all ICE facilities have access to meals served three times daily at the cafeteria, and the Northwest Detention Facility also provides snacks and/or food available for purchase from a commissary. If individuals are found to go without eating for 72 hours, they will become subject to the agency’s protocols for handling hunger strikes – see link. Individuals on a hunger strike will continue to be offered three meals daily and provided an adequate supply of drinking water or other beverages. They will also be counseled about the related medical risks.

Mar 24, 2017 tacomaweekly.com
Council raises concern over detention center’s future
Tacoma City Council wants answers and reassurances from Geo Group America, the private operation of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility on the tideflats that is home to some 1,500 detainees who are facing possible deportation. The council passed an emergency ordinance earlier this month that put a stall on any expansion plans at the Northwest Detention Center for the next six month, although no such plans are officially known. Mayor Marilyn Strickland pressed the point further by raising concerns about detainee treatment at the center by sending a letter to the private prison operator that included a note that said the city could suspend or revoke the facility’s business license if violations are found. “We are writing to express concern about the current operations of the Northwest Detention Center. More specifically, we are concerned about the possible detention of individuals in violation of due process rights, the violation of the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients and other established and relied upon Federal Immigration enforcement  priorities,” the letter stated. “It is the City of Tacoma’s firm position that detention of individuals in violation of state and federal due process rights bears a direct relationship to the conduct of the business for which you are licensed with the City of Tacoma, and will result in danger to the public health, safety and welfare of the individuals involve as well as the community as a whole.” Councilmember Marty Campbell introduced the emergency ordinance at a time the center has been gaining national attention following President Donald Trump’s executive orders to step up enforcement of illegal immigrants and following the arrest of Daniel Ramirez Medina, who is a recipient of the deferred action program started under former President Barack Obama. Medina has been detained at the Tacoma facility for more than a month over allegations that he has gang ties which would violate his DACA conditions. He has denied any gang affiliation. The anticipated uptick in ICE operations against undocumented residents coupled with the fact that the detention center only occupies five of the 17 acres of land it bought from the Port of Tacoma raised the question of future expansion plans, Campbell said. “They own more land than what they are using,” he said. The center opened in 2004 with 500 detainees and has since expanded to its current capacity of 1,575. It is now one of the largest facility of its kind in the nation. That fact and the empty land it leases raises the broader questions of the land-use policies of industrial land and the role private prisons should have in the city. “Our community has not had that conversation,” Campbell said. “The purpose of our port is to move cargo in and out, so what does it say when we put a bunch of people down there?” He noted that the council has been working on getting a tour of the facility, but have not yet been able to schedule a visit or have discussions with Geo Group or ICE officials about the operation and future of the facility. “They hold their cards very close to their vests,” he said. “But we are certainly interested in their participation in the conversation.” Strickland toured the detention center with state and federal officials in 2014, when the center was in the headlines when more than 1,000 detainees stages a hunger strike for 56 days over conditions in the facility that included allegations of mistreatment by guards, poor food quality and the slow pace of legal hearing schedules. She continues to have questions about detainee treatment as well as the work environment for the guards and staff at the facility, particularly as the federal government has sights on stepping up efforts against undocumented residents. “Given the comments by the administration and a more strict stance on immigration, it is clear they want to step up enforcement,” she said. More enforcement around the nation means more detainees, which could mean more detainees coming to Tacoma. That reality juxtaposes the city’s official stance as a “Welcoming City,” by providing legal referrals for undocumented residents and vowing to not ask a resident’s immigration status during police questioning or for other city services. “Regardless of someone’s views on immigration, everyone agrees on due process,” she said. The non-profit group Advocates for Immigrants in Detention Northwest has helped detainees who are released from the center with emergency food and clothing as well as free phone calls and friendly smiles by parking an RV filled with supplies outside the center each weekday afternoon. Kaye Marshall is one of those volunteers. She drives down from Seattle twice a month to show compassion and Christian love for the newly released detainees who are often hundreds if not thousands of miles from where they were arrested and may have received just a few hours of notice that they were being released. “I’m sure it’s upsetting. They are scared,” she said. “We just want to be able to encourage them and be friendly to them.” The Geo Group owns or manages 104 correctional and detention facilities around the globe with 87,000 beds, including idle beds in inventory and projects under development. The private company has 64 facilities just in the United States, with 75,152 beds under its management. The Northwest Detention Center specifically is a short-term minimum, medium and maximum security facility that houses people facing immigration charges. The average stay is 30 days. The complex encompasses 277,000 square feet and is accredited through the American Correctional Association, most recently in 2015, with a score of 100 percent in compliance with industry standards and practices. The Geo Group responded to Strickland’s letter of concern with four-paragraph retort that mentions the center employs 360 guards and staffers, who make a wage above $12 an hour. “The warden and GEO appreciate the opportunity for a continuing conversation to address questions as they arise,” the letter concluded. “You have an open invitation to visit the site to view operations first hand at your convenience, which can be arranged with fairly short notice.”

Oct 14, 2016 seattleglobalist.com
Labor unrest at GEO Group’s immigrant detention center in Tacoma
On Tuesday a group of sign-wielding protesters marched along the sidewalk outside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, a privately-run Immigrations and Customs Enforcement lockup facility. The dead end street adjacent to the GEO Group-owned and operated detention facility attracts a lot of protesters, and signs like “GEO unfair treatment” are pretty standard. What was unusual about Tuesday’s protest was the people holding the signs: GEO Group employees who work at the facility. Victoria Mena, Policy Director and Development Strategist at Colectiva Legal del Pueblo — a group that provides legal services and advocates on behalf of migrants — stopped by NWDC Tuesday afternoon after hearing from an attorney colleague that GEO Group employees were picketing. Mena says she arrived to find between 25 and 30 guards on the street outside the detention center. She approached two of the off-duty GEO Group employees who were handing out coffee and donuts and asked them if there was a labor strike. Mena said the corrections workers described the action as an “informational strike” and said that they were frustrated by low wages, inadequate training, mandatory overtime and a lack of sick days. The NWDC guards unionized in January, five years into a pay-freeze, and have received push-back from the company in recent months, Mena said. The ICE spokeswoman, Rose M. Richeson, confirmed that ICE staff at the Northwest Detention Center, “noticed a gathering of what appeared to be GEO employees Tuesday.” Richeson referred me to GEO Group for comment on the details of the event; in typical fashion, GEO Group did not respond to a request for comment. “Here is this huge, greedy corporation that is exploiting its workers as well as the people in detention.” I visited the strike Wednesday but didn’t find any disgruntled workers, just six vehicles with signs condemning the GEO Group displayed on their windshields. The aggrieved workers at NWDC aren’t alone; numbers compiled by the research and policy group In the Public Interest (ITPI) in 2014 demonstrated that the 800,000 people employed in U.S. lockup facilities are at heightened risk for mental illness, substance abuse and suicide. Corrections officers at private prisons typically work under worse conditions than their peers at government-run facilities because the for-profit prisons are short staffed. Data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this year put the median 2015 salary for private-prison correctional officers at $32,290, with a quarter of correctional officers making less than $26,091. The guards aren’t the first to advocate for better working conditions at NWDC. In March 2014 detainees at the facility initiated a work stoppage and hunger strike in response to inadequate compensation and food. “Here is this huge, greedy corporation that is exploiting its workers as well as the people in detention,” said Mena.

Aug 8, 2014 seattleglobalist.com

The latest hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center was called to a halt last Saturday after two mysterious officials from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) approached detainees and told them their “voices had been heard.” The hunger strikers chief complaints were about bad food, substandard medical care, high commissary prices and lack of access to fair and timely court hearings. According to Maru Mora-Villalpando, the CEO of Latino Advocacy and a lifeline for many NWDC detainees, at least 150 prisoners at the facility began to refuse food last Wednesday, continuing until Saturday morning. ICE Public Affairs Officer Andrew Munoz acknowledged that some detainees refused their food but put the number of returned trays at no more than 90. The recent strike is just the latest installment in a series of hunger strikes at the facility. A strike that began March 7and at one point boasted over 1,000 participants was called to an official end May 1 after garnering global media attention. Conditions apparently haven’t changed much at the facility since then. However Munoz explained in an email that commissary prices have been lowered, items have been added and changes have been made to the menu since the spring strike. Detainee Cipriano Rios-Alegria, one of the spring hunger strike participants, was placed in isolation July 31 “pending investigation for trying to recruit other detainees for hunger strike,” according to an internal Administrative Detention Order form furnished to the Seattle Globalist by Alex West, a legal advocate for Colectiva. detainee in isolation for participating in a hunger strike, a constitutionally protected right, is in direct violation of the agreement reached between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Columbia Legal Services and the NWDC earlier this year, during the previous hunger strike. “ICE received numerous complaints from detainees who had no interest in participating, but were being pressured to do so,” explained Munoz, noting that some diabetic detainees had to be transferred for their own dietary protection. “Under ICE’s detention standards, engaging in or inciting a group demonstration is a prohibited act.” After media reports  pointed out this abuse of civil liberties, Rios-Alegria was released from isolation. “The ACLU is standing by in case there is any further retaliation in violation of the previous agreement,” wrote West in an email. Right now it isn’t entirely clear who exactly is negotiating and what is on the table. “NWDC G5 Pod called Saturday morning,” said Mora-Villalpando. “They said a ‘Director Wilson’ met with two of them and told them that their voice was heard, that they should stop and they would work on improving conditions. Both of them were given the same agreement as to what conditions they will improve.” The details get a bit fuzzy beyond that. It isn’t entirely clear who the “Director Wilson” who made the promise is, and no specific date has been set for the rollout of any changes. “We haven’t seen any paperwork yet, just a promise, so we’re looking for something to solidify that,” said West. While Munoz would not explicitly state who met with detainees and convinced them to end their hunger strike Saturday, he did imply that at least one of the officials was affiliated with ICE. “ICE  is committed to ensuring the welfare of those in our custody. ICE managers and detention center staff communicate with detainees regularly during visits to the facility’s pods,” wrote Munoz. “These visits afford the facility staff an opportunity to get direct feedback from detainees regarding any issues or concerns.” A group of 44 detainees also penned a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) outlining their overarching demands including the following: “NO MORE FAMILY SEPARATIONS. WE WANT FAIR COURT HEARINGS AND THE PRESIDENT TO LISTEN TO OUR COMMUNITY” (You can watch a video of the full letter being read at an August 2nd demonstration here ). As you might imagine, most of those issues are beyond the scope of problems GEO Group and ICE actually have the authority to negotiate on. “Many of the matters raised by detainees, such asimmigration law reform or immigration court case issues, are outside the scope of the detention center staff’s control,” explained Munoz. They’d have to come at the hands of Congress or the President. Indeed it seems likely that the latest hunger strike was timed to coincide with the last few days of the congressional session before their summer recess — when there was a slim chance they might actually take action on an immigration reform bill. That of course didn’t happen. But the spring hunger strike did catch the attention of local Congressman Adam Smith, who introduced a bill  mandating improved conditions in detention centers. The bill has picked up some cosponsors, but hasn’t made it to a vote and looks to be a non-starter in a Republican-controlled Congress. The hunger strike comes as GEO Group looks to renew their contract to operate the facility in the coming months. The existing contract expires in October, and a new open-bid contract was expected to post by the end of July — but there is still no sign of it on fbo.gov  and Munoz says he does not know when it will be unveiled. The company announced their 2nd quarter earnings this week, coming in above projections. “We continue to create value for shareholders,” said CEO George Zoley in a quarterly earnings conference call Wednesday morning. “We have improved occupancy across our real estate portfolio, particularly at the federal level.” Creating value for GEO Group’s shareholders tends to be at odds with providing comfortable accommodations for detainees — the less GEO spends providing the detention services the government pays them for, the more profit they make. But if the government was asking for the right things in it’s contracts, GEO could easily provide better conditions. A GEO Group facility in Australia expected to open in 2017 will offer an “an unprecedented level of in-prison rehabilitation and community reentry services,” according to John Hurley, Senior Vice President of GEO Corrections and Detention. Hurley said the facility will showcase the full GEO Group Continuum of Care, to include “community reentry services, education, training, employment, assistance, housing, substance abuse and mental health counseling.” The NWDC does not offer any of these things because they are not stipulated in GEO Group’s current contract with ICE. As a publicly traded company, GEO’s first responsibility is to their shareholders who benefit when costs are kept low. So will the ongoing problems at the facility hurt GEO Groups chances of securing the contract? They certainly could. “Anything that may compromise the security or welfare of the detainees is of concern to ICE,” wrote Munoz in an email Wednesday. An optimist might imagine fruitful negotiations between the detainees and ICE leading to a new contract that requires GEO Group to provide more of those cadillac options for services at the NWDC. But with both the negotiations and the supposedly public contract renewal process shrouded in secrecy, it’s anyone’s guess if or how that could actually happen.

Mar 26, 2014 slog.thestranger.com

In an interview yesterday with The Stranger, Representative Adam Smith (D-9) said conditions at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma—where hundreds of jailed immigrants launched a hunger strike this month and one remains under medical observation—were "shocking" and "very, very tough" when he visited last week. As a result, Smith intends to introduce legislation to create minimum standards under which immigrants can be detained. The hunger strike has since gone national. "I'm trying to put pressure on them to get the conditions changed however possible," Smith said. Which makes sense, seeing as his district, stretching from South Seattle to Federal Way, is one of the most diverse in the country. Immigrants make up 16 percent of his constituents and about half of all kids in the district have at least one immigrant parent. Smith said he's voiced his concerns both in a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and verbally to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. Rations at the jail are "wildly inconsistent, and sometimes inedible," Smith said three hunger strikers told him during his visit. The detainees are also protesting high prices for commissary items and $1 per day wages for menial work within the facility. "It is really problematic," Smith continued, "having a private company running this." He pointed out that not only is the center run by the private prison company GEO Group, but that GEO uses subcontractors to handle meals for the detainees and other other aspects of running the 1575-bed facility. "So I can imagine that the less they pay for the food, the more money they make." Besides the conditions inside the jail, "there are real concerns over whether we should be deporting these people," Smith said. One of the hunger strikers he spoke with moved here at age 9. He was arrested for assault long ago, but no charges were filed against him. Because he was undocumented, immigration agents subsequently took him to the NWDC pending possible deportation. "These people are being ripped apart from their families," Smith told me. "Is that making our community a better place? I don't think so." Smith is in the beginning stages of crafting legislation that could address everything from mandatory bed quotas (Smith called them "inherently wrong") to the government's reliance on corporations to run immigrant detention centers. The scope of the legislation will depend on how the Obama administration responds to his inquiries. In the absence of serious reforms, he said, "we may have to get out of the private prison business." It's great to hear a legislator condemn the government's aggressive detention and deportation policies, and to question the use of private prison companies, which in and of itself is a scandal. What's not so great is that it took detainees starving themselves in order to shake lawmakers into taking action. That means it's up to immigrants and their activist supporters to keep the pressure on until change materializes.

Mar 18, 2014 latinoadvocacy.org



Tacoma, WA, Conroe, TX – After a massive hunger strike inside the Tacoma Detention Center reached its 11th day, detainees found their effort spreading to other facilities inspired by their demands. Last night at midnight, immigrants held at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, TX initiated their own fast in protest of their treatment at the facility run by the same company, the GEO Group, and as part of the nation-wide call for an end to deportations. Immigrant rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando sees momentum building for reforms but expressed concern over the reaction of ICE and the GEO Group: “The hunger strikers are civil rights leaders taking a brave stand against inhumane treatment. At the Northwest Detention Center, GEO Group and ICE have retaliated by putting leaders in solitary confinement and threatening to force-feed others.  With the strike spreading to Texas, it’s time for ICE and GEO Group to recognize the detainees’ demands instead of engaging in retaliation.” Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas added, “Immigrants in detention should not have to go to such extreme lengths to blow the whistle on mistreatment within ICE’s vast and largely privatized immigration detention system.  GEO Group, the for-profit prison corporation that operates both these detention centers, has a well-documented track record around Texas of canceled contracts and scandal-ridden facilities, including at several prisons for immigrants in Texas.” In the recent White House budget proposal to Congress, the administration sought funding for a quota of more than 30,000 individuals to be held in detention on a daily basis, upholding what has been an unprecedented practice of subjecting immigration enforcement to an arbitrary line item.  Detainees say that the treatment they receive is a result of the profit-seeking element that has inserted itself into the detention system. An attorney who confirmed the strike this morning after visiting the Conroe, TX facility, communicated the hunger strikers demands to be:

•             Stop the deportations

•             Just treatment for detainees

•             End overcrowding in the cells

•             End double judgment for old cases

•             Food with nutrition in it

•             Better medical care

•             Lower calling prices

•             Lower rates at commissary

and said the detainees wanted it known that they were inspired by the on-going Washington State efforts. An eight-page handwritten letter from the Washington State hunger strikers explaining their demands is available upon request. The letter states, in part, “[W]e join ourselves to that effort and demand that the Federal Executive (Mr. President Barack Obama) use his presidential authority and order a total stop to the unjust deportations that are separating families, destroying homes, and bringing uncertainty, insecurity and unhappy futures to our children, our loved ones.”

Mar 11, 2014 msnbc.com

Immigrant detainees are facing threats of retaliation on their fifth day of a hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, according to supporters who have spoken with the strike’s leaders. Sandy Restrepo, an immigration attorney, said Monday that some of the detainees at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility have been threatened with forced feedings, and that detainees seeking asylum had been threatened with the denial of their cases. Maru Mora Villalpando, a representative with Latino Advocacy, a group that has been supporting the hunger strikers, said that some of the men who started eating yesterday had rejoined the strike. Villalpando also said that one of the group’s lawyers is following up on allegations that two detainees were physically compelled to sign deportation papers. “We know the retaliation continues,” she told msnbc. ICE officials said in a statement Monday that 130 of the facility’s nearly 1,300 detainees were still on strike. “In accordance with ICE detention standards, detainees who do not eat anything for 72 hours will be considered to be on a hunger strike and referred to the medical department for further evaluation,” the statement read. Northwest Detention Center is run by GEO Group, a private corrections company that has faced criticism for lobbying against immigration reform despite promises it would stay out of last year’s debate over changing the current system. Nearly two million immigrants have been deported during President Obama’s administration. “Most [undocumented immigrants] are detained because they are working without a social security number, but the federal government is okay with these people working for GEO group for one dollar a day,” Villalpando told msnbc. “It’s a kind of slave labor, and the conditions are just not humane”.

And the protesters are not afraid of retaliation if it brings more attention to conditions at ICE facilities around the United States. “They want the public to know that they’re people, and this is supposed to be a civil proceeding, and they’re being [in a way] neither civil or even human … they’re treated worse than animals.” The strike began Friday as a protest against ongoing deportations and substandard conditions at the detention center, including quality of food and treatment, lower commissary prices, and better pay for work done at the facility. Detainees are fed potatoes and milk. According to Villalpando, snacks available in the commissary can cost the equivalent of five days’ pay. On Monday, the detainees expanded their demands to include release on bond for detainees, saying in a letter, “Without a bond we spend months, even one-to-two years locked up without knowing what’s going to happen to us and our families and without being able to economically support our families, causing them to fall deeper into poverty.” Family and supporters of the protesters have planned a press conference at 5 p.m. Tuesday in Tacoma, where the wives of some of the men on strike will also offer updates. Supporters of the hunger strikers said that 1,200 detainees began the strike on Friday, while ICE officials put the number at 750. “[The protesters] see themselves as whistleblowers, as civil rights activists. They know some of their cases might end with them being deported, but they know it’s not just about them,” Villalpando said.


Mar 10, 2014 latimes.com

About 330 detainees were on a hunger strike for better conditions at an immigration detention center in Tacoma, Wash., as of Sunday afternoon, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center began Friday, and at one point more than half of the facility's 1,300 detainees - 750 - were refusing meals, an ICE official told the Los Angeles Times. The facility is privately owned and operated by the GEO Group Inc., a government contractor. It houses immigration detainees during the deportation process. According to an immigration activist website run by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the facility's detainees were protesting "the ongoing deportations overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the inhumane conditions at the for-profit detention center owned and operated by the GEO Corporation." The detainees were seeking better food, better treatment, an increase in the facility's $1-a-day wages for work, and lower commissary prices, according to the labor network's website, www.notonemoredeportation.com. As of Sunday afternoon, the 330 detainees who were refusing meals had not yet crossed the 72-hour threshold when prison officials must refer them for medical evaluation, according to a background statement provided by an ICE official. GEO Group describes the Northwest Detention Center as a combination minimum-, medium- and maximum-security facility. Some of the detainees in the facility have violent criminal histories, "including gang violence, rape and murder," according to the ICE statement, which added that the facility's most dangerous detainees have been placed on lockdown as a "safety precaution" during the hunger strike.


March 08, 2014 abclocal.go.com

TACOMA, Washington -- Immigrant-rights activists rallied outside the Northwest Detention Center on Saturday, while at least 750 detainees protested their treatment and called for an end to deportations with a hunger strike. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement department said on Saturday morning that 750 detainees had refused to eat and said they were on a hunger strike. Activist Maru Mora Villalpando said the hunger strike started Friday as a protest of deportations as well as center conditions. She said the hunger strikers, who she believes number more than 1,000, are seeking better food and treatment as well as better pay for center jobs. "We are concerned for their welfare, and we support their brave stand against inhumane treatment. We are gravely concerned about retaliation, particularly against the hunger-strike leaders," Villalpando said. The center currently houses nearly 1,300 people being investigated for possible deportation. ICE spokesman Andrew Munoz said the agency respects the right of detainees. "ICE fully respects the rights of all people to express their opinion without interference," Munoz said. "While we continue to work with Congress to enact common-sense immigration reform, ICE remains committed to sensible, effective immigration enforcement." The detainees are under continuous observation by center staff and medical personnel. ICE detention standards state that a detainee who has not eaten for 72 hours is considered to be on a hunger strike.

Oct. 14, 2012  LEWIS KAMB The News Tribune
The private prison contractor that operates one of the nation’s largest immigration detention centers on Tacoma’s Tideflats has agreed to negotiate a long-­neglected agreement with the City of Tacoma that would spell out public safety responsibilities should disaster ever strike the lock-down facility. Discussions about a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, between The GEO Group and the city kicked off during a Sept. 7 meeting that included Tacoma Fire Chief Jim Duggan and Lowell Clark, warden of the Northwest Detention Center. “It was a very positive meeting,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jolene Davis. “All sides are committed to working on the MOU that you know is required by the Department of Homeland Security.” Meeting participants – including federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials – also discussed allowing city fire personnel to review the facility’s evacuation plan and conduct joint emergency preparedness training drills with the detention center’s employees. “We want to make sure that we know what their evacuation plan is to ensure the safety of all people in that facility,” Duggan said. A second meeting is set for Wednesday, city officials said. The latest talks between GEO and the city emerged after The News Tribune raised questions about the prison company’s contractual requirements during reporting on Center of Detention, a special report about the Northwest Detention Center published in September. Among other details, the report noted the facility was built on fill material prone to liquefaction during earthquakes and within an area susceptible to tsunami flooding and volcanic hazards, according to scientists. A corporate spokesman for Florida-based GEO declined last month to directly respond to a reporter’s questions for the special report, instead issuing a general statement that the facility “provides a safe and secure environment for its detainee population and staff.” Since opening with 500 beds in 2004, the detention center has expanded into a 1,575-bed facility with an average daily population of detainees that ranks it fourth-highest among hundreds of immigrant detention facilities nationwide. Under federal contracts dating back eight years, GEO, the detention center’s owner and operator, and its predecessor, the Correctional Services Corp., were supposed to have “written agreements with appropriate state and local authorities that will allow the contractor to make requests for assistance in the event of any emergency incident that would adversely affect the community.” Such agreements are meant to clearly spell out the roles and responsibilities – and potentially, any cost recovery protocols for them – for any special assistance provided by local governments to the detention center during riots, catastrophes or other emergencies. Records show that the city and CSC worked on draft agreements shortly before and after the detention center opened in 2004. But those agreements never were formalized, despite some Tacoma public safety officials assuring City Council members years ago that they would be. After a reporter asked about the contractual obligation, an ICE spokesman told The News Tribune in August his agency was satisfied that GEO, which took ownership of the detention center in 2005, had sufficiently tried to meet the requirement. “Each year, The GEO Group sends an official correspondence to fulfill that contract obligation,” spokesman Andrew Munoz said in an email. “But so far, they’ve done it without any success.” Tacoma City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli and other city officials later said they knew of no such correspondences, and a public records request submitted by the newspaper turned up no such documents. Munoz said in an email Friday that ICE officials are supportive of the current talks to address the issue. “ICE is pleased with this development as our top oversight concerns are ensuring the safety of the public, detainees and those who work at the detention center,” he said. On Friday, Assistant City Manager Tansy Hayward, who attended last month’s meeting, noted that the city recently sought to re-examine GEO’s public safety and financial responsibilities to the city and “to make sure we were appropriately responding.” The issue emerged as a budget-related topic earlier this year, after former Fire Chief Ron Stephens told council members his department’s costs for responding to service calls to the detention center in 2011 totaled about $60,000. City staff later examined potential cost-recovery ideas, finding that none could fairly be applied to the facility. They also noted that the detention center paid more than $1 million annually in property and business taxes. Hayward said the city’s current discussions with GEO focus on public safety, not cost recovery. “I think that will be part of the conversation,” Hayward said. “But at this point for us, it’s really about ensuring there are good plans for public safety in place. It’s really clear The GEO Group shares that feeling and is committed to cooperating.” With the Fire Department nearly ready to launch operations of the Port Emergency Warning System, or PEWS, part of the discussions with GEO are focused on how the new system might benefit the detention center, fire officials said. Paid by federal port security grants, PEWS will use a system of speakers positioned around the Port of Tacoma to sound sirens and voice instructions, warning the public about chemical spills, tsunamis or other hazards. It’s meant primarily for people with unfettered movement, but fire officials believe the system also can benefit the lock-down detention center to some extent. “It’s not the magic bullet that takes care of all of our concerns if we have some big lahar or some other disaster,” Davis said. “But it’s certainly a step in the right direction.” Local activist Tim Smith, who has raised public safety concerns about the detention center for eight years, welcomed news of the emerging talks. “This is long overdue, so I’m very glad these discussions between GEO and the city are finally taking place,” Smith said Friday. “But I would hope that the city makes sure there’s public input in this process. For us to be excluded at this time would be a serious mistake.”

February 19, 2011 News Tribune
Federal prosecutors this week charged an employee of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma with smuggling drugs to people detained in the facility. Larry Joe Heath Jr. is accused of one count of distribution of cocaine, according to records filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. Heath is alleged to have smuggled cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and other contraband into the facility between September 2010 and January 2011, court records show. The center, which is on the Tideflats, houses people suspected of being in the United States illegally and other immigration violations. Federal investigators received a tip about the alleged smuggling in late January and confronted Heath, court records show. He allegedly told investigators that he carried the drugs into the center in his pocket or socks and left the drugs in a mop closet, where detainees could access them. Heath received money in exchange for the drugs, records show. Prosecutors also contend Heath used drugs with detainees while on the job.

August 14, 2009 AP
Federal officials say guards from the private company that runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma used pepper spray to control immigrant detainees who were refusing to follow orders. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lorie Dankers says detainees weren't responding to orders Sunday night to go to bed. Guards from Florida-based GEO Group Inc. then used pepper spray to gain control of the detainees. Dankers says the sprayed detainees - all male - were checked out by doctors at the detention center. No major injuries were reported. Dankers says immigration lawyers had raised concerns after some detainees did not make scheduled court appointments following the incident. She says those appointments were rescheduled. The Obama administration has called for changes at the way illegal immigrants are treated at detention centers, including placing federal employees in charge of monitoring the treatment of detainees in the largest facilities.

March 12, 2009 The News Tribune
The Geo Group Inc., operator of the federal immigration lockup on the Tacoma Tideflats, has gone to court to block the City of Tacoma from releasing building plans and other public records to a civil rights activist. Releasing the approximately 11 volumes of information would pose a security risk to the Northwest Detention Center, attorney Joan Mell argued in a lawsuit filed March 4 in Pierce County Superior Court. The company is asking a judge to block the release, citing security and trade secret grounds. “Access to the information increases the likelihood of escape attempts and makes power and phone lines vulnerable,” Mell argued. Florida-based Geo Group owns and operates the Northwest Detention Center. It has a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. The company is expanding the facility from 1,000 to 1,500 beds and submitted detailed building records to the City of Tacoma, according to the lawsuit. Tim Smith, an activist with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma, requested the records last month. On Feb. 25, city officials informed the Geo Group that the requested materials had been compiled and would be turned over to Smith on March 2. A hearing is scheduled for June 26.

February 23, 2009 AP
A former administrator at a privately run immigration lockup in Tacoma won't serve any jail time after she admitted hiring guards without background checks to speed up the process. The Northwest Detention Center holds about 1,000 people accused of immigration violations, mainly detainees from Alaska, Oregon and Washington. Sylvia Wong, a former hiring manager at the center, will serve two years of probation and 100 hours of community service under the sentence issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle. Wong pleaded guilty in November to making false statements to investigators. A handful of the guards she hired would not have passed background checks. The U.S. attorney's office in Seattle did not recommend jail time, saying that Wong took full responsibility for her actions, is well-educated and an unlikely felon.

February 23, 2009 AP
If it wasn't for Timothy Smith's intense opposition to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, the state might never have noticed that the private company that owns the facility was violating environmental rules. The detention center - the federal government's prison-like complex in Tacoma that holds suspected illegal immigrants, often for months - was built near the former site of a coal gasification plant that left behind heavy pollution in the soil. According to the state Department of Ecology, Boca Raton, Fla.-based The GEO Group violated an "environmental covenant" by not informing the state before moving any of the soil, which may be contaminated. The company group was required to notify the state if it planned to do any construction on the site that could cause a release of contamination to the environment, said Joyce Mercuri of ecology's Toxics Cleanup Program. "The GEO Group did not inform us about the expansion," Mercuri said. Prompted by Smith's questions, the department informed the GEO group of the violation and is now working with the company to properly handle construction the site to meet the state's requirements. A representative for GEO, though, said the company was not aware of any violations. "Construction for the expansion at the facility began under the required permits issued by the City of Tacoma," said Pablo Paez, GEO's spokesman, in an e-mail. "We are not aware of any official findings of any violations by the state Department of Ecology." Smith's tip to the Department of Ecology was part of a passionate battle he has waged this past year against the GEO Group and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, accusing them of environmental violations and other misconduct. Ultimately, Smith - a member of the advocacy group Bill of Rights Defense Committee and an Army veteran - wants the detention center closed. But GEO has begun working on a 30 percent expansion of the 1,000-bed complex that will add nearly 600 beds on the eve of new contract bids with the federal government. The detention center's expansion comes at a time when federal authorities have cracked down on illegal immigration in this region. Deportations from Washington, Oregon and Alaska increased by 35 percent in 2008 compared to 2007, totaling more than 10,000, according to ICE. Most of those people arrested in the region were held and processed at the Tacoma detention center. For now, Smith's goal is to slow down the expansion by asking questions and pestering all parties involved. The 46-year-old activist has waged his battle against the expansion on various fronts, lobbying the Tacoma city council to move against the expansion. He has raised questions on how ICE's contract proposal almost exactly matches GEO's expansion plans, which ICE has said was not solicited by the government. Smith also monitors the news for missteps by GEO, and keeps track of their earnings reports, on top of doing surveillance on at the actual work site. "When one fights injustice, when one breaks down the barrier of fear and xenophobia, it takes time," Smith said. "I think we're pretty much at a breakthrough with the whole situation. It's not the time to quit. It's time go forward full steam." Smith can claim a small victory. He says GEO will not be able to meet its goal of opening the detention center by September, the month in which the new contract proposal from ICE called for having the expansion operational. Paez, GEO's spokesman, declined to comment on the expansion's schedule. "We want to treat people like we want to be treated," Smith said. "This is a society of justice and that has been thrown out the window in Tacoma." The detention center opened its doors five years ago. Originally, the GEO group was not the owner, taking over the facility after it acquired Correctional Services Corporation in 2005. The current contract with ICE expires on April 23, 2009. Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma said that the city is "stuck" with the detention center for now, a facility he would have been opposed to hosting in the city had he'd been in government at the time it was built. Baarsma said part of the problems arising from the detention center is that a private company operates it. Last year, a GEO administrator pleaded guilty in federal court to hiring nearly 100 security guards without background checks, something ICE officials didn't catch for two years. "You have no accountability, no culpability" Baarsma said of the contracting practices. Worldwide, GEO operates nearly 66 correctional facilities in the U.S, Australia, South Africa and England. It has a total capacity of about 62,000 beds. According to ICE, the daily cost to house a detainee at Tacoma is $95, and there are about 1,000 detainees in the facility at any given time. Lorie Dankers, ICE's spokeswoman in Seattle, said the agency was not aware of any violations by GEO. "We have not been contacted by Department of Ecology or by GEO," Dankers said. "There's no indication that the (Tacoma detention center) doesn't meet our requirements." Smith quickly disputed Dankers' statement, promptly showing off e-mail messages between himself and ICE officials in Washington, D.C., discussing the environmental violation.

January 9, 2009 The News Tribune
Construction to expand the federal immigration lockup on the Tacoma Tideflats might have violated restrictions put into place after an environmental cleanup at the site, state officials said Thursday. The Geo Group, a Florida-based contractor that runs the Northwest Detention Center, dug through clean soil into potentially contaminated groundwater in apparent violation of a restrictive covenant imposed in 2003, according to the state Department of Ecology. Risk to the public is believed to be minimal. State inspectors planned to visit the site today. “We’ve asked the Geo Group to prepare an application to our voluntary cleanup program and give it to us by Monday,” said Lisa Pearson, an engineer with the state’s Toxics Cleanup Program. A local civil liberties watchdog group called the Bill of Rights Defense Committee-Tacoma first alerted state officials to potential problems, prompting a review. A request for comment made through the Geo Group’s corporate headquarters received no reply Thursday. Earlier in the week, Joan Mell, an attorney who represents the company locally, said there was no intent to disregard any environmental regulations. “They’re very concerned about being a good neighbor,” she said. Pearson, who’s been in communication with local Geo Group representatives, said there was apparently “some kind of mix-up” and that the company was unaware the property was under a restrictive covenant stemming from the previous cleanup of the site, known as the Tacoma Tar Pits. Activists, who have fought against the facility on many fronts, expressed environmental concerns early on. “No matter what happens, we in Tacoma have a moral responsibility to 500-plus detainees soon to be living above one of our most toxic areas,” Tim Smith, a spokesman for the Bill of Rights group, wrote in a News Tribune editorial in 2004, before the detention center opened. The facility has about 1,000 beds. The expansion would bring that number up to 1,500. “This just confirms what we’ve been saying about this place,” Smith said Thursday. The apparent violation doesn’t require activity at the site to be halted, Pearson said. Geo Group has said tests indicate the water in question is no longer dangerously contaminated, but the state hasn’t reviewed those results, she said. Bill of Rights Defense Committee members expressed concern that contaminated water might be flowing from the site into local waterways, but there’s no evidence of that happening, Pearson said. State and federal officials are working with the company to monitor water quality, figure out the extent of any problem and determine what actions might be necessary, said Tamara Langton, a project manager with the federal Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle. The restrictive covenant requires a 30-day public comment period before the state approves any work that would violate restrictions, such as digging in certain areas. Since some of that work has already started, Pearson said she hopes to initiate a public comment period soon.

December 18, 2008 Weekly Volcano
Tacoma’s Bill of Rights Defense Committee is worried that sludge buried deep beneath a private immigrant prison on the Tacoma tide flats may be rising to the surface. No, not the metaphorical sludge created by what has been reported as deplorable treatment of people imprisoned at the Northwest Detention Center, which is run by Florida-based GEO Group. The Tacoma advocacy organization is concerned about the kind of sludge produced by a coal gasification plant that helped transform the once lovely plot of land into what the Environmental Protection Agency now calls the “Tacoma Tar Pits.” A letter sent last week to Superfund Project Manager Tamara Langton called for an emergency inspection of the site. The request was sent because BORDC members were concerned that construction activity associated with expansion of the prison has disturbed layers of soil that had been piled on top of decades of accumulated toxic gunk (one of many ways to keep toxins from being eaten by seagulls or leeching into nearby ground water). “Observations of ongoing grading, excavating, auguring, and soil compression activity indicate that a serious breach of the surface cap has occurred and contaminated subsurface groundwater and highly contaminated soils are being exposed ...” the letter reads. “There’s really not supposed to be any oil on the surface,” says Tim Smith, BORDC member and former military intelligence technician. “Our contention is that they’re bringing it up.” From 1924 to 1956, a coal gasification plant operated on the site, contaminating the soil with tars, according to EPA documents. In 1967, an auto recycler operated on the site, adding acid, lead, heavy metals, and several other kinds of toxic goo to the mix. Cleanup of the site, carried out under government supervision, removed the top 15 feet of contaminated soils on the 12-square-mile site and replaced it with fill. It’s a solution that Smith refers to in the letter as a “negligible risk solution to contain the contaminants in subsurface soils and waters,” punctuated by “as long as they remain undisturbed.” So here’s the concerning part: As construction crews prepare the Northwest Detention Center property for construction intended to make room for an extra 545 prisoners, they’re augering down as deep as 50 to 100 feet, disturbing and compressing the contaminated soil. The intent is to fill deep holes with gravel to stabilize the soil, which would likely liquefy in event of an earthquake. The side effect, Smith claims, is an earthen regurgitation of gunk that should have stayed buried. So far, visits from the EPA, the Department of Ecology, City of Tacoma and a private contractor haven’t turned up any water contamination, but there are concerns about the soils on the site, says Tamara Langton, EPA Region 10 superfund project manager. There are concerns about the soil that the EPA and other agencies will be looking into, including claims that deep augering is bringing toxins to the surface. The site also is currently facing its five-year review by the EPA, and officials will be paying special mind to concerns raised by the BORDC. “We don’t believe at this time that there is any harm posed to workers or people in the facility,” says Langton, adding, “We’re taking this very seriously.” Smith, meanwhile, isn’t just appealing to environmental agencies, and he’s unabashed in pointing out that his concern about the private prison goes beyond the environment. Beyond addressing concerns about toxic sludge, Smith is in the process of challenging a family of legal and procedural components that allowed GEO Group to move forward with it expansion. “I think this is the most horrible thing that the City of Tacoma could have allowed,” says Smith. “During my military service, I saw detention centers and what happened there. I’m stunned that this is happening here.” Phone calls to officials at the GEO Group were not returned.

November 6, 2008 AP
A privately run immigration lockup in Tacoma hired nearly 100 security guards without background checks, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement didn't catch the practice for two years, court documents show. Sylvia Wong, an administrator in charge of hiring at the Northwest Detention Center, pleaded guilty this week in federal court in Tacoma to one count of making a false statement, for lying to investigators. In her plea agreement, she admitted that soon after starting work in November 2005, she began hiring guards without background checks "because of the pressure she felt to get security personnel hired at the NWDC as quickly as possible." ICE auditors discovered early this year that 92 guards had been hired without the checks. The agency acknowledges that some of the guards have been fired following subsequent background checks, but won't say how many. "In response to this investigation we have implemented a multi-tiered vetting process ... so that no contractor or federal employee has sole responsibility to process and approve employment documents," ICE spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said Thursday. "We have taken proactive steps to prevent this from happening again." The Northwest Detention Center opened in 2004 and holds about 1,000 people accused of immigration violations, mainly detainees from Alaska, Oregon and Washington. It's run by the for-profit, Florida-based GEO Group Inc., with yearly reviews to ensure the facility meets ICE standards. A GEO Group spokesman has not returned several inquiries from the AP about Wong's case, the latest on Thursday. Her lawyer did not immediately return a call. On Thursday, ICE announced that 10,602 aliens had been deported from Alaska, Oregon and Washington in fiscal 2008 - a one-year record for the region and a jump of more than 35 percent from the previous year. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Brown said any pressure that Wong felt to hire guards quickly was self-imposed and did not come from higher-ups. If anything, he said, she was mostly trying "to make people happy." When guards are hired at the detention center, they are supposed to undergo a preliminary background check. If they pass, they are given "entry on duty" forms allowing them to begin work pending a more thorough check, which can take several months to more than a year. The plea agreement said that when Wong hired the guards, she fabricated "entry on duty" forms, allowing them to start work without any background check. In February, ICE discovered that the guards had been hired without the checks and searched Wong's office. The next month, when agents questioned her, she insisted she had not manufactured the forms - hence, the "false statement" charge against her. Brown said he did not know precisely how many of the guards Wong hired had been fired, but characterized the number as relatively small. Asked what the number was, Dankers said, "I'm going to decline comment on that." Asked why, she replied, "Because I am." She later called back to say policies prohibited her from discussing staffing levels - even though the number of fired guards has nothing to do with current staffing. According to the plea agreement, the detention center has up to 200 security, administrative, medical, food service and maintenance workers. Wong faces zero to six months when she is sentenced in February.

September 30, 2008 AP
Federal authorities are taking a second look at security guards at the Northwest Detention Center, a privately run immigration lockup in Tacoma, after finding that some were hired without preliminary background checks, The Associated Press has learned. "Clearly this is a cause for concern," said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "We take great pride in the safety and the security at our facilities, and we need to make sure the people responsible for the safety and security of our facilities are themselves beyond reproach." Authorities released few details, citing an ongoing investigation, but a federal charge was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, accusing Sylvia Wong, a human relations specialist with GEO Group Inc., the private contractor that runs the center, of lying to ICE internal investigators when she claimed in April she did not falsely generate documents. The Northwest Detention Center opened in 2004 and holds about 1,000 people accused of immigration violations, mainly detainees from Alaska, Oregon and Washington. This summer, a report by an immigrant rights advocacy group alleged mistreatment of detainees there, including excessive strip searches and overcrowding. ICE officials dismissed it as a "work of fiction." Guards hired at the center are supposed to go through a preliminary background check, after which an "entry on duty" memorandum allows them to begin work pending the completion of a full background check, which can take several months to more than a year, Kice said. Wong is accused of fabricating the documents, allowing guards to begin work without the preliminary background check. Kice said she couldn't discuss why that allegedly was done, how long it might have been going on or in how many instances guards began working without background checks. "If someone was brought on board who had a prior criminal history ... that's one of the issues we're examining closely," she said, adding that in such a case "we'll take follow up action." Wong is still on the job, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Brown said. Wong's lawyer was out of the office Tuesday, and Wong did not return a message left on her work voice mail. GEO Group, based in Boca Renton, Fla., did not return e-mails seeking comment. The study on conditions at the lockup was released by Seattle-based OneAmerica, an immigrant rights advocacy group, and the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University Law School. They based it largely on interviews with detainees, family members and immigration lawyers. "This really just points to what we had in our report, that there's no oversight over these detention centers, and contractors can get away with all kinds of things," Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, said Tuesday. "We'd like to know what kind of checks were done ... to make sure they don't have guards that might be prone to be abusive," Jayapal added. The report came out soon after ICE announced an increase of nearly 40 percent in deportations out of Washington, Oregon and Alaska over the first nine months of the fiscal year. More than 7,300 people were deported from the region in that period.

July 16, 2008 Seattle Times
Six immigrants being flown by federal authorities to Alabama last summer were denied the use of bathrooms for seven hours and forced to sit in their own excrement, according to a new report by the Seattle University School of Law. The 65-page report, "Voices From Detention," examined the treatment of detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. In the report, detainees told researchers about one man — a mentally ill Cambodian — who they say was punched by U.S. marshals and later struggled to breathe after a hood was put on his head during the cross-country flight. The alleged incident occurred as detainees were being transferred temporarily from the detention center in Tacoma, as sometimes is the case when authorities need to free up bed space in advance of a big raid. Immigration officials called the report a "work of fiction." They said detainees are never denied bathroom privileges on these flights and that they have no reports of any of this having happened. The report's findings, released during a news conference Tuesday by the law school's human-rights clinic in collaboration with the immigrant-rights group OneAmerica, is intended to draw attention to conditions at the privately run Tacoma facility. The findings come as immigrant detention has become the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the U.S., the study's authors noted. Gwynne Skinner, a visiting professor from Willamette University College of Law in Oregon who oversaw the study, said the alleged conditions violate international human rights. Seattle University students interviewed 41 detainees — one-third of them refugees — four attorneys and one family member to gauge their experiences at the center. The real names of the detainees were not used in the report. Many of their complaints stemmed from overcrowding and ranged from overzealous strip-searches to delays in receiving medical care. "As Americans concerned with upholding our Constitution and assuring justice and human rights, we should remember that America is degraded when the government fails to uphold those very rights that make us a great country," said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, formerly Hate Free Zone. Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which pays the detention center's operator, GEO Group, $95 a day for each detainee it houses, said the report is "filled with inaccuracies and vague allegations." Lorie Dankers, spokeswoman for ICE, said the detention center meets, or in many cases exceeds, its own as well as national detention standards. "People don't like to be in detention," she said. "But there are consequences to breaking federal immigration law. And when detainees appeal their cases, it lengthens their time in detention. They can at any time give up their appeal" and leave the U.S.

July 15, 2008 AP
From excessive strip searches and overcrowding to a lack of due process, an immigrant advocacy group alleges detainees are being mistreated at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, which houses illegal aliens in the process of deportation. In a study released by Seattle-based OneAmerica and the International Human Rights Clinic at Seattle University's law school, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's operation at the Tacoma detention center is harshly criticized. The report contains anecdotes in which detainees describe what they call degrading treatment by guards and subpar conditions at the jail. An ICE spokeswoman in Seattle dismissed the report as "a work of fiction." Detentions nationally increased from 95,000 in 2001 to more than 300,000 last year, according to OneAmerica. Immigration spokeswoman Lorie Dankers in Seattle said she could not confirm those figures. "Probably the most striking, stark fact is that there's no accountability around conditions and standards, which is only made even more stark when you think of detention as being the fastest- growing form of incarceration in the United States," Pramila Jayapal, executive director of OneAmerica, said Monday. Immigration officials denied the report's contentions, saying the detention facility complies with industry standards. The Geo Group, the Boca Raton, Fla.-based private contractor that runs the facility, declined comment Monday. "The report authored by Seattle University and OneAmerica is considered a work of fiction by ICE," Dankers said. "The information contained in the report has numerous inaccuracies and vague references that could not be corroborated or independently verified." Most of the accounts come from 46 interviews conducted by Seattle U. students between 2007 and 2008. Detainees were interviewed, as were family members and immigration lawyers. In some cases, researchers did not disclose names or dates in the accounts. The researchers also had sessions with ICE officials and tours of the facility. One account in the 42-page report alleges that U.S. marshals denied some detainees access to restrooms for seven hours during flights from Seattle in 2007, leading some of the immigrants to defecate in their seats. Melissa Middlesworth, a federal Justice Department spokeswoman based in Washington, D.C., said she could immediately comment on that allegation without closer examination of the report. Another woman cited in the report said she was strip searched several times after visits with her lawyer. Dankers said thorough strip searches are uncommon and only done when officers think there's probable cause to conclude that inappropriate contact took place between a detainee and a visitor. In another section, the report alleged that a man under treatment for a cancerous brain tumor was deported, even though doctors had warned that his condition would worsen. Dankers said ICE deported a man with cancer in January 2008, and had followed doctors' recommendations. Also, ICE policy calls for deportees with health issues to be given a week's worth of medication after deportation, she said. The report also alleged that many immigrants were pressured to sign documents they did not fully understand and faced verbal abuse from guards if they delayed. Also, a lack of meeting rooms for detainees and lawyers led to hurried meetings lacking privacy. The detention center opened in 2004 and has been expanded twice. Earlier this month, city of Tacoma officials confirmed that the Geo Group plans to expand the facility by 50 percent, to a capacity of 1,500 detainees. Dankers said the center typically runs near capacity, which is about 1,000 detainees. It houses detainees mainly from Alaska, Oregon and Washington. The daily cost to house a detainee is $95, Dankers said. One detainee has died while in custody. Dankers said the Pierce County medical examiner's office reported he died of heart disease. "We really want to call attention and educate the general public to what's happening in our own backyard," Jayapal said. OneAmerica included recommendations in its report for better treatment, including better attorney access, improved officer training, increased privacy and improved medical care. The report came a few days after ICE announced an increase of nearly 40 percent in deportations out of Washington, Oregon and Alaska over the first nine months of the fiscal year. More than 7,300 people have been deported from the region in that period, immigration officials said.

December 10, 2007 The News Tribune
Hundreds of detainees were sick. Many complained of severe abdominal cramps and diarrhea. The medical staff was called in early but couldn’t cope with the long lines. The culprit was Clostridium perfringens, a foodborne bacterium that poisoned hundreds at the Northwest Detention Center on Tacoma’s Tideflats in August, according to public documents recently released to The News Tribune. It was the largest food poisoning outbreak in Pierce County this year, Health Department spokeswoman Joby Winans said. The incident also fueled criticism of the 1,000-bed privately operated immigration detention center, which has been the subject of protests in Tacoma. The poisoning likely began Aug. 11 with a lunch of turkey and potato casserole. Many detainees wrote in surveys that the meat served that day looked raw and smelled odd. The department’s food experts believe the potatoes – which were cooked the day before, cooled and reheated for the meal – allowed the bacteria to flourish. By about 9 p.m., about 300 detainees were ill, most with diarrhea. Detention center staff told detainees they had to wait until the in-house medical clinic opened in the morning, but the volume of complaints prompted the administration to call clinic staff at 4 a.m. and ask them to come in early. Only 197 people were seen at the medical clinic. “Others likely came to the clinic but left without being seen, due to long lines,” the Health Department’s investigation report states. Most people, the report continues, recovered rapidly, and no one required hospitalization. The Health Department was contacted about the outbreak Aug. 12, and it sent a food safety specialist that day to review food handling procedures. Tests and surveys were unable to pinpoint the exact source of the illness. Tests on detainees’ stool samples showed high levels of C. perfringens, but the food samples were negative. The Health Department report stated that while “the food item with the strongest association with illness” was the sausage served with dinner, the time frame of the onset of illness suggests that lunch led to the apparent poisoning. The report also identified several problems with food preparation procedures at the detention center. Potatoes, the report said, were prepared a day in advance, cooled and reheated prior to distribution to detainees, a practice that can contribute to outbreaks. “The abuse of temperature can be a real problem” with C. perfringens outbreaks, said Barbara Bruemmer, a senior lecturer in epidemiology at the University of Washington. If food is not cooled in the proper manner, she said, it can become a home for the bacteria. In its food poisoning investigation, the Health Department recommended that the detention center refrain from preparing some food in advance and that detention center kitchen managers take a food safety course. Lorie Dankers, a public affairs specialist with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said employees of The GEO Group, the corporation that operates the detention center, have complied with the recommendation about attending food safety courses and have ended the practice of making food long in advance.

August 15, 2007 Seattle Times
About 300 immigrants being held at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma spent the early part of this week recovering from suspected food poisoning. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department officials said they were contacted Saturday night after about 180 detainees were treated for diarrhea, nausea and vomiting at the detention-center clinic. They had been served three meals that day that included hamburger-potato casserole for lunch and beef sausage and coleslaw for dinner. Most began showing symptoms late Saturday, Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, adding that detention-center staff, who sometimes eat there, also got ill. Joby Winans, public health-information officer, said Tacoma-Pierce County health officials were at the detention center Sunday, Monday and again Tuesday to try to determine what made so many people sick. "It's a scientific mystery at this point," Winans said. "The good news is that no one was seriously ill. They were uncomfortable, yes, but not seriously ill." Viki Sandote said her brother-in-law, Jose Ojeda Esquivel, who has been in detention since Aug. 1, called her Sunday night to say that everyone in his unit had become ill. "He said there were a lot of people who were vomiting and had diarrhea and couldn't sleep," she said. "Someone even passed out from dizziness." Dankers said that by Tuesday most people appeared to have recovered. The facility must adhere to strict national standards for food preparation, and a licensed, trained chef oversees the preparations. "We serve 1,000 people three hot meals a day," Dankers said. The Department of Homeland Security contracts with The GEO Group, a national detention-management company, to run the detention center, which opened in April 2004. It primarily houses immigrants from Washington, Oregon and Alaska facing deportation, although more recently it also has held people brought in from elsewhere.

June 17, 2007 News Tribune
Demonstrators rally in Tacoma in support of more than 100 jailed migrant workers brought from Oregon who might be deported. About 60 to 70 protesters gathered Saturday afternoon at the entrances to the Northwest Detention Center off J Street East in the Tacoma Tideflats. The focus of their protest was a sweep by federal immigration agents in Portland on Tuesday that brought 131 migrant workers to the Tacoma detention facility, according to The Oregonian. The newspaper called the raid of American Staffing Resources and the Fresh Del Monte plant the largest in Oregon in recent memory. About 160 workers were reportedly detained for processing and deportation. Some were released for health and family reasons. Melissa Campos, a Seattle immigration attorney who was outside the center Saturday afternoon, said the Tacoma protest was aimed at supporting the detainees inside as well as their families, many of whom traveled north from the Willamette Valley to visit their loved ones. Campos said the protest was peaceful and ended about 3:30 p.m. Tacoma police were called about 12:40 p.m., said department spokesman Mark Fulghum, and a total of seven officers were dispatched throughout the afternoon. There were no arrests, he said. A group of about 10 Minutemen held a counterprotest, Campos said. The volunteer group opposes illegal immigration and proposed changes in federal law that would allow illegal workers to stay in the United States. The protesters included members of a number of immigrant rights groups, including Hate Free Zone, Washington Community Action Network and the Portland-based Sin Fronteras, Campos said. Tim Smith of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee of Tacoma sent out an e-mail to local civil rights activists to encourage attendance. “Your participation will show that some in Tacoma still care,” he said. The $115 million detention center opened in April 2004, a public-private partnership between the federal government and the Florida-based Correctional Services Corp. Company officials then described it as contributing $750,000 in annual property tax revenue, 190 jobs and a payroll of more than $6 million. Critics, such as Pierce County Prosecutor Gerry Horne, were concerned about the extra burden on local criminal justice resources. Campos said another protest at the center is planned for July 14.

November 4, 2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Two people are suing a private corrections company, saying one was viciously beaten and the other sexually harassed while they were being held in Tacoma on federal immigration charges. Dozens of inmates witnessed the allegedly unprovoked beating in July of Jose Mancilla Gutierrez, 22, at the Northwest Detention Center, according to his attorney, Gwynne Skinner. Correctional Services Corp., which operates the detention center on the Tacoma tide flats for the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, is named as the defendant in the suit along with five of the company's guards and officials.
Skinner and her partner, Daniel Gross, filed suit in U.S. District Court last week for Mancilla and Marisela Manzo Torres, 27, who contends that officers sexually harassed her. Mancilla told his attorneys that on July 5, guards ordered detainees to return to their cells. As he was doing so, a guard identified only as Lt. McIntyre, "yelled at him to stop." "For no justifiable reason, defendant McIntyre then handcuffed plaintiff (Mancilla), threw him to the floor, and forcefully put his knee into plaintiff Mancilla's back," the lawsuit says. McIntyre then walked Mancilla to the exit and slammed his face into a wall. The impact chipped a tooth, split his lip and caused him to bleed. The lawsuit says McIntyre "repeatedly without justification shoved plaintiff Mancilla against the wall." McIntyre is alleged to have taken Mancilla into a hallway still visible to many cells, where he "violently threw plaintiff (Mancilla) to the ground." Then, joined by a guard identified only as Portillo, both officers "attacked plaintiff, beating and kicking him and repeatedly hitting his head against the floor," the lawsuit says. As the handcuffed Mancilla begged for mercy, the beating continued and blood pooled on the floor, the lawsuit says. Manzo also says in the lawsuit that she suffered mistreatment at the hands of McIntyre and other officers. The lawsuit accuses McIntyre of brushing against her "so that his arm or other parts of his body would touch her breasts." McIntyre passed her cell at night, "shined a flashlight over her body" and repeatedly said "show me." She complied, lifting her blanket, out of fear, according to the lawsuit. Manzo says that a guard described only as officer Twogood worked in a control room during the night shift and would engage in sexual banter with Manzo over an intercom in her cell.

July 31, 2002
Correctional Services Corporation today announces an award by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) to construct and operate a 500-bed detention facility in Tacoma, Washington.  Construction of the new facility is expected to begin immediately, with the facility to be operational by the third quarter of 2003.  The new facility will have over 158,000 square feet of space for housing, medical, recreation and administrative services to include courtrooms to expedite deportation hearings.  (CSC)

Prairie Correctional Facility
Appleton, Minnesota
October 3, 2009 West Central Tribune
Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton is cutting its workforce by more than half in response to declining inmate numbers. The facility notified 120 workers Friday that they would be laid off effective Dec. 1. It will leave a working staff of 110, according to Warden Tim Wengler. The decision was forced when the private, 1,600-bed prison learned that the State of Washington would be removing 100 inmates, the warden told community representatives at a meeting on Friday. There are currently 342 inmates in the facility from the states of Washington and Minnesota. The warden and other administrators met earlier in the morning with employees at the facility, and have been meeting individually with those affected by the layoffs. The cuts go across the board, and involve administrative and correctional positions alike, according to the warden. The facility has been working hard to avoid layoffs since last spring when the state of Minnesota began to pare its number of inmates at the facility. The facility had avoided layoffs by reducing the two-week work period to 72 hours and by allowing workers to transfer to other facilities within the Corrections Corporation of America, the prison’s owner. The Nashville, Tenn., based company is extending that offer to all of the employees to be laid off. Steve Conry, vice president of operations for CCA, said Appleton employees were told they could transfer to other CCA facilities and maintain full pay and benefits with the promise they could return to their Appleton jobs when they become available. Conry said CCA could absorb virtually all of the laid off employees at other facilities, but realizes that many will be unwilling to leave families behind to relocate. He said the Appleton facility will host a job fair, and offer classes on job seeking skills as well as bringing in Minnesota Work Force representatives to assist the employees in the coming weeks. The company is also continuing to work hard to market the facility to other states, according to Conry. He blamed the decline in inmate numbers on tight state budgets and the facility’s location. He said nationwide, CCA has just opened a new facility in Georgia and is seeing lots of demand for housing inmates in the Deep South and the Far West. Appleton’s location in the Midwest puts it at a disadvantage right now, since many states are wary of the expenses associated with transportation. “It’s hard for those states to make decisions to go long distance,’’ he said.

May 14, 2009 Morris Sun-Tribune
The State of Minnesota continues to slowly pluck its inmates from the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, but what it takes with one hand could be returned with the other. Officials at the privately owned facility in Appleton are hopeful that legislation to repeal Minnesota’s short-term offender law will be signed into law. If so, state prisoners who now complete the final 180 days of their incarceration in county jails could be serving that time in the Appleton facility. The numbers vary, but there can be as many as 300 or 350 short-term offenders in county facilities at any one time. They could help make up for some of the long-term Minnesota offenders the facility is now losing, said Timothy Wengler, warden of the Prairie Correctional Facility. He cautioned that even if the short-term offender law is repealed, it could be weeks or months before the Appleton facility sees some of the offenders now being sent to county jails. The Minnesota Department of Corrections is carrying out plans to move its inmates in Appleton to its own facilities, primarily to the newly remodeled and expanded prison in Faribault. Those plans are the cause of concern in Appleton, where the Prairie Correctional Facility is one of the largest employers. A large crowd of people, many of them employees of the facility, voiced their anxieties in February at a town meeting hosted by local legislators. Wengler said the state has been removing its inmates in small numbers based on programming needs for the individuals. The facility currently holds 442 Minnesota inmates, down from 542 earlier this year. The drawdown hasn’t occurred as rapidly as originally feared, he said. Along with inmates from the state of Washington, the Appleton facility currently holds 855 inmates. Staffing levels at the facility are currently at 235, which he described as right where it should be for the current inmate population. The facility has a capacity of 1,600 beds, and the warden would like to see the beds filled and staffing increased again to 353 positions. It is currently working aggressively to market the available beds to other states. It recently sent a contract proposal to one interested party. The facility has been able to manage the loss of Minnesota inmates without cutting jobs. The facility has been able to reduce staffing costs entirely through attrition, Wengler said.

Seattle Bus System
Seattle, Washington
Wackenhut (Group 4)

February 24, 2010 The Oregonian
Sure, there have been some bad muggings at TriMet stops in recent years. But I can't recall one in which the transit police just stood and watched it happen. Up in Seattle, Metro uses a private security firm to patrol its stops downtown. We assume that means that the contacted guards would come to the rescue of riders in trouble at bus platforms. Apparently not. Metro and the security firm are under fire over a video showing three security guards watching on as a group of teens beat and robbed a 15-year-old girl in a downtown bus tunnel last month. The transit agency says the contracted security guards are "only allowed to observe and report problems." Officials say they're changing that policy now. OK. But from what we can see from the above security video, it doesn't appear any of the guards even lifted a cell phone while the girl was being pummeled. In case you're wondering, TriMet's stops are patrolled by transit police, who are obviously armed and authorized to intervene in fights, and Wackenhut security guards. The Wackenhut guards are armed with pepper spray and baton sticks. "They are not only allowed to break up this type of disturbance," said TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen, "they're expected to get involved."

February 11, 2010 KATU News
In a Seattle bus tunnel a 15-year-old girl was viciously attacked while security guards did nothing but call 9-1-1. The incident, in addition to sparking outrage, has many asking whether security guards in Portland are allowed to step in. Disbelief and disgust was the reaction by people who were shown surveillance footage of a girl being repeatedly kicked in the head by another girl while private security guards stood by at arm’s length and did nothing but call 9-1-1. “I know the transit isn’t exactly the same over there (Seattle), but I know it’s still good and that’s, that’s horrible,” said one man after watching the video at a MAX station. “Somebody’s getting hurt, I mean you don’t want them to get hurt, I don’t know, like, do something,” said another man at a MAX station. TriMet and its private security contractor Wackenhut, said if one of their guard’s is near a fight, they won’t just stand back and dial 9-1-1. Wackenhut project manager, Maj. Ellis Bremer, said there’s no question employees can and will get directly involved to stop fights. “We will not stand by,” he said. “We are here to protect the employees and assist the employees of TriMet and in so far as the ridership goes, of course, protect the ridership and inform the ridership.” The state only requires eight hours of classroom work to get a license to be a private security guard, but Wackenhut said it requires its people to go through an initial minimum of 80 hours and then a 16-hour refresher course every year. Most riders said they believe security should mean more than just dialing 9-1-1. Transit officers in Seattle say they are reconsidering the limits put on their private security guards.

Washington Department of Corrections
Sep 25, 2019 wthr.com

Judge plans to dismiss case on wages of immigrant detainees

SEATTLE (AP) — A U.S. judge who previously ruled that Washington state could pursue its claim that immigration detainees must be paid minimum wage for work at a privately run, for-profit immigration jail said Tuesday he intends to reverse himself at the urging of the Trump administration. U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan issued a proposed order notifying lawyers for the state and for the GEO Group, which operates the large immigration detention center in Tacoma, that he plans to dismiss the case. He gave them until Oct. 4 to respond. "Judges don't like to reverse themselves," Bryan wrote. "Sometimes, however, it is necessary — when the law changes or becomes more clear, or when additional facts come to light, or old facts have new impact as the law becomes more clear. So it is here." Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, sued GEO in 2017, saying the company had relied on detainee labor for work that should have earned them the state minimum wage — currently $12 an hour. The lawsuit sought to force GEO to give up profits it made by underpaying the detainees, and it has been seen as a test of how well Democratic state officials could resist President Donald Trump's immigration agenda. Bryan had repeatedly refused to dismiss the case. He ruled in December that Washington state could pursue its claim that the GEO Group was required to pay minimum wage, instead of $1 a day, for janitorial, kitchen and other duty done by detainees. While he said it was too early to determine whether the Minimum Wage Act applied to the detainees, he noted that there was nothing in the law that would exempt civil detainees at a privately run jail from being paid minimum wage. He reconsidered his analysis after the U.S. Justice Department filed a "statement of interest" in the case last month, calling the lawsuit "an aggressive and legally unjustified effort by the state of Washington to interfere with federal immigration enforcement." The agency insisted that because Washington does not pay minimum wage for work by its own detainees at state-run facilities, such as the Special Commitment Center for sex offenders on McNeil Island, it discriminated against the U.S. government to require a federal contractor to pay its detainees minimum wage. In his proposed order Tuesday, Bryan said he especially took note of two rulings, one from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and one from the U.S. Supreme Court, issued in the spring, after his initial ruling in the GEO case. The new opinions clarified how the constitutional principle of "intergovernmental immunity" applies, he said: Federal contractors must be treated just as the federal government itself would be treated, and because the state cannot discriminate against the federal government under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause, it cannot discriminate against GEO. "If the state is permitted to enforce the Minimum Wage Act against GEO, the cost of civil detention under federal law would be higher than the cost of civil detention under the laws of the state of Washington," Bryan wrote. "This the state cannot do." The attorney general's office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a written statement, GEO said it abides by national detention standards set out by the federal government, which govern the Voluntary Work Program used at its immigrant detention centers.

Jun 4, 2015 seattletimes.com

Overcrowding to force state to export prisoners to Michigan

Inside Washington’s 12 prisons, space is maxed out with every bed occupied, and officials expect the overcrowding to worsen. To ease the problem, Department of Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner signed a contract last month with The Geo Group, a South Florida-based private corporation that runs prisons around the world. Geo Group plans to house up to 1,000 male Washington inmates at its prison in Baldwin, Mich. Under the contract, Geo Group will be paid $60 per day per inmate. The company will cover the cost of transporting inmates to Michigan, Warner said. Warehousing inmates in privately run prisons is nothing new for the DOC. In the mid- to late 2000s, overcrowding forced the prison system to ship inmates out of state. The practice drew complaints from inmates and their loved ones, who said it broke apart families. Warner defends the decision to ship inmates out of state by saying, “What we don’t want to do is have unsafe conditions in our prisons and go down the path of crime.” Added Warner: “We’ve been raising concerns about capacity over the last three or four years.” As of Tuesday, there were 16,752 men and women in Washington state prisons. Warner believes the DOC can operate at its current capacity for 12 to 18 months before having to send offenders to the Michigan. He said DOC forecasters expect to need an additional 1,000 inmate beds by 2025. The state Department of Corrections has signed a contract with a private corrections firm to house up to 1,000 inmates at the North Lake Correctional Facility in Baldwin, Mich. Source: ESRI The state Department of Corrections has signed a contract with a... More Dan Pacholke, DOC’s deputy secretary, said the last time prison officials selected inmates to be sent out of state, they looked for offenders who did not have strong family ties and didn’t have a regular stream of visitors. “You start with volunteers,” Pacholke said. “You try not to not disrupt people with strong family support.” But state Sen. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, who has long worked closely with DOC on overcrowding issues, said in the past Washington state inmates were selected for out-of-state prison placement based on their “model behavior,” not whether their families would be impacted. “These contractors only want the people who are going to perform well. They take the cream of the crop,” said Darneille, adding that in her view sending inmates out of state is “absolutely bad policy.” “It just breaks morale to solve a short-term problem,” she added. The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington (ACLU) has also long opposed sending inmates out of state, said spokesman Doug Honig. “It separates people from their families, which is very unhelpful for rehabilitating people. It is not good in the long run for public safety since most people are going to get out of prison,” Honig said. The ACLU of Washington is especially concerned that DOC has signed a contract with a company with no extensive local ties. The Geo Group runs the Northwest Detention Center, an Immigration & Customs Enforcement facility in Tacoma that houses detainees. “The group they’re contracting with is a private, for-profit prison company. Their incentive is to make money, which could include cutting corners on services,” Honig said. “It’s hard for the citizenry in Washington to hold them accountable.” We’ve been raising concerns about capacity over the last three or four years.”  The Geo Group made headlines last month after the ACLU of Southern California and other human-rights organizations wrote to federal officials expressing concern about the medical care provided at the company’s Adelanto Detention Facility after two inmates died in a three-year span. According to The Huffington Post, The Geo Group has been faced with hundreds of lawsuits. The online news publication said one former Geo Group employee claimed First Amendment violations to inmates, improper training for staff, and abuse to both inmates and employees. Geo Group declined to comment directly for this story, instead emailing a statement Tuesday saying that it operates its prisons “pursuant to strict contractual requirements and industry-leading standards including those set by the American Correctional Association, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.” Warner, the DOC secretary, defended the decision to contract with The Geo Group, saying they carefully reviewed prison-service providers. He said they have a very specific contract with Geo Group mandating that inmates have access to work, treatment and educational opportunities. “Our expectation is we have very specific conditions the provider needs to meet. If they fail to meet the contract expectations we will terminate the contract,” Warner said. For several years DOC has been pushing state lawmakers to allocate funds to build another prison. DOC is now asking lawmakers to transform the former Maple Lane School, once a Juvenile Rehabilitation Administration facility near Centralia, into the state’s newest 700-bed prison. If the state Legislature agrees to fund the facility, Warner estimates 2020 will be the earliest the new facility could open. Warner said it would be too costly for the state to add or renovate current prisons. He said reopening McNeil Island Corrections Center, which closed in 2011, would cost at least $50 million. Darniille, the state senator, said the Legislature still has time in the next year or two to pass sentencing reforms to help alleviate prison overcrowding enough to avoid sending offenders out of state. “If we’re passing policy on one side that says we’re going to hit you harder and longer, we’re going to definitely need to have more beds,” she said. “But if we’re implementing other kinds of strategies we can possibly reduce the number of people being put in the position of needing these longer sentences.”

June 29, 2010 Washington DOC
The last group of out-of-state Washington inmates returned today from Arizona. A chartered plane carrying 116 inmates landed in Spokane. The Department of Corrections has gradually brought back inmates housed in other states as the prison population has leveled off in recent years. In September 2007 more than 1,200 inmates were housed in privately operated prisons located in several states, including Arizona, Minnesota and Oklahoma. Having Washington inmates housed in the state has multiple benefits, prison administrators say. “For one thing, all the jobs required to incarcerate Washington inmates are now in our state,” Secretary Eldon Vail said. “There’s also a public safety component. Inmates who receive regular visitations are significantly less likely to commit a new felony and end up back in the prison system.”

September 30, 2008 AP
More than 100 inmates are being transferred back to Washington, after serving time at private prisons in Arizona. The Corrections Department says the return of 110 inmates from Arizona is the largest single-day transfer of out-of-state inmates this year. They were sent to Arizona because of crowding in Washington prisons. But an expansion in the state prison system has freed up some space. Seventy-six of the inmates will be sent to the Washington Corrections Center in Mason County, and 34 will be sent to the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County. The number of inmates housed outside the state is now 978. Earlier this year, nearly 1,200 Washington inmates were in other states.

June 5, 2005 Seattle Times
Up to 300 Washington inmates soon will fly out on the "chain plane" to rented prison cells across the country in a strategy to ease overcrowding. The inmates are expected to be shipped out to one of the 64 facilities run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest private jailer. The Nashville, Tenn.-based company is already holding 290 Washington inmates and has a mixed track record. Last year, Washington inmates at a CCA-run facility in Colorado started the largest prison riot in that state's history. They were promptly shipped to the company's prison in Appleton, Minn. In May 2003, Washington shipped about 100 inmates to the Nevada state prisons, and added 140 more by that summer. A year later, Washington turned to CCA. The state sent a handful of staff along with the inmates to act as contract monitors. When those staff salaries and travel are included, Washington pays a per-offender rate of $62 per day. A similar group of in-state inmates would cost about $55 per day, according to a DOC budget analysis. The "rented-beds" program has gotten scant attention, even after the riot in Colorado. State Rep. Jeannie Darneille, vice chairwoman of the House corrections committee, said separating parents like Velvett Jones from her son is bad policy, and that the inmates being sent are the best behaved, sending a bad message to those left behind. But her biggest objection is the issue of control. "I just don't have a lot of trust for the privately run prisons," said Darneille, D-Tacoma. "It is done without public knowledge or debate. We give up our control to a privately run institution that sets parameters." Last July 20, just after dinner, dozens of inmates from Washington and Wyoming gathered in the yard of the CCA-run prison in Onley Springs, Colo., demanding to see the warden with a list of grievances. Within a half-hour, the jail was in chaos. In the end, it took hundreds of officers nearly a full day to quell the riot. More than a dozen inmates were injured. Damage was estimated at $1 million. A post-riot investigation by the Colorado Department of Corrections faulted CCA for understaffing and poorly training staff, and for building a prison with materials, such as porcelain sinks, which could be used as weapons. Eight Washington inmates face criminal charges from the riot.

January 17, 2003|
A prison work program that competes with private-sector employers doesn't violate the state Constitution's ban on leasing prisoners to private companies, the Washington Supreme Court ruled yesterday.  The case involves a company called MicroJet, which employs prisoners at the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe.  Prisoners use water-jet cutting equipment to cut metal and stone into precise shapes.  The Washington Water Jet Workers Association, a loose coalition, sued the state. But the court disagreed, 5-4, ruling that the 20th century law that allows private-sector prison work programs bears no resemblance to the 19th century practice of selling involuntary convict labor.  (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

December 26, 2002
From government's perspective, crime -- especially punishment -- doesn't pay.  It costs. Plenty.  Prison costs have more than doubled in the past decade and now top the billion-dollar mark. Although the crime rate has declined, taxpayers are paying for a decade of tough-on-crime laws and citizen initiatives that have filled the cellblocks with inmates who are serving longer sentences.  The prison population has risen more than 60 percent in the past 10 years, up from about 10,000 inmates. The construction budget piles on another $1.2 billion.  Budget Director Marty Brown said the plan buys the state a little more time for having to build a $250 million, 2,000-bed prison at Connell, north of the Tri-Cities. "We're right on the edge of needing the additional capacity," he said.  The state is even making plans to temporarily ship 700 or more inmates to out-of-state prisons until additional space is available here.  (AP)

Washington Department of Health
Civigenics, Crossroads
May 29, 2009  Spokesman-Review
A social worker and two counselors in the Puget Sound area have been accused of buying fake degrees from a Spokane diploma mill. State health officials said Michael Strub, a licensed social worker, bought a doctor of philosophy in psychology diploma and transcript in March 2004. The materials came from “Hamilton University,” an online diploma mill. Strub worked at Cornerstone Counseling Services in Puyallup, where Washington state Health Department investigators say he used his fake diploma to misrepresent his education and training to clients and insurance companies. David Larson, a registered counselor and chemical dependency professional, is accused of buying a doctor of psychology degree in October 2002 from “St. Regis University.” Larson worked at Crossroads Treatment Centers in Tacoma and Parkland, and then went to Civigenics in Tacoma before retiring in October 2006. Agency and staff had referred to him as “Dr. Larson.” Taylor Danard, a registered counselor, bought a bogus doctor of philosophy in psychology degree from St. Regis in January 2003. She referred to herself as a Ph.D. in her practice at Madison Park Counseling Center in Seattle. Investigators also accuse her of providing health department investigators with false information. The three have 20 days to respond to charges. They are listed on a database published online by The Spokesman-Review last year of people who bought bogus degrees from a Spokane-based operation that netted millions of dollars by selling more than 10,000 college degrees and high school diplomas around the world. The diploma mill was engineered by Dixie Ellen Randock, who has been sentenced to three years in federal prison.

Washington Legislature
Mar 6, 2020 bigcountrynewsconnection.com

Washington State Lawmakers Pass Ban on For-Profit Prisons

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers elected to prohibit the transfer of inmates to out-of-state private prisons, except for specific reasons, after the Senate voted 30 to 18 in favor of Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 6442. Senator Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, prime sponsor of the bill said it is intended to help end the growth of an industry in which private entities profit from prolific incarceration. The language of the original bill prohibited privately owned detainment facilities from being contracted by local, state, or federal government entities and likely would have had an impact on the ICE detainment facility in Tacoma. A last-second amendment was proposed by Saldaña to substantially narrow the focus of the legislation. Hannah Woerner, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, testified to the Senate Human Services, Reentry & Rehabilitation Committee in favor of the original bill. Woerner claimed privately-run prisons are more violent and less sanitary than public facilities, in part because they cut down on guards and medical staff in order to maximize profits. They are also more prone to deliver delayed medical care to inmates in need.  “Private prisons… have been shown to lead to increased recidivism,” Saldaña said. “The detention and confinement of individuals carries great responsibility, and these functions must not be motivated by private profits.” The companion bill to this legislation, House Bill 2576, passed 60 to 38 on Monday. Bill 2576 directs the Department of Health to evaluate state and local practices for inspecting private detention facilities and enforcing policies on the health, safety, and welfare of detainees. The results of the study could urge lawmakers toward the prohibition of private detention facilities in the future. “There is an inherent injustice in making money from those who are incarcerated,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, prime sponsor of the companion bill in the House. “It is a violation of human rights and is contrary to our democratic values.”

Feb 14, 2020 yaktrinews.com

Washington state lawmakers pass bill to limit immigration detention center

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma would not be allowed to expand under a bill that the state House of Representatives approved Wednesday.

The News Tribune reports if it becomes law, HB 2640 would declare that the privately owned and operated immigration detention center is not an “essential public facility,” enabling the city of Tacoma to block further expansion of the facility, said Rep. Jake Fey, the bill’s sponsor. The GEO Group runs the facility for the U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE. The House voted 85-12 to approve the bill, which moves to a Senate committee.

Jan 24, 2020 crosscut.com

Washington could become the next state to ban private prisons. Last year, California banned private detention centers and was promptly sued. Now, Washington state legislators are considering a similar ban.
On a recent Saturday, immigration advocates packed Washington Hall, shared tamales and discussed the various ways they planned to put an end to immigration detention in Washington state. They had already managed to stop deportation flights in King County, the activists boasted. After giving a brief historical overview of the burgeoning private prison industry in the United States (the first private prison opened in the 1980s), and the costs and abuses associated with the facilities, the activists revealed a bill a number of groups have been working on with Washington state legislators. The bill's intention: Ban all private detention facilities. The Latino Civic Alliance, Washington State Labor Council, American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, La Resistencia, among others, have supported the bill. Sponsored by state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-Seattle, and in the House, Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, the bill aims to prevent private companies that contract with local, state and federal agencies, such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, from operating in Washington state. “There are numerous documented abuses of people held in private detention facilities in Washington state and elsewhere,” the bill reads. “Incarcerating persons in private detention facilities leads to cutting operational costs, which is dangerous and detrimental to Washingtonians.” Under the bill, Washington state’s one private detention facility, the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, would continue to detain people only for the duration of its contract, which expires in 2025. The bill could prevent other private facilities — whether criminal or civil — from opening. Leading presidential candidates, such as Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have already identified the private prison industry as a primary target, vowing to do away with private jails.  Grisel Ruiz, supervising attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, one of the groups behind the push to ban private prisons, said “this really is a national movement.” “Our North Star is to see some change at the federal level,” Ruiz said. Ortiz-Self said: “We should not be profiting off our most vulnerable communities. Locking people up should not be a moneymaking venture.” Saldaña pointed out many of those held are not violent individuals, and many end up in worse condition after they come out.  If signed into law, Washington state would join a handful of other states that have already tackled this issue.  Last summer, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation that bars private companies from contracting with local communities to detain immigrants. The new law expands on the state's already existing 1990 private prison ban. The goal of the Illinois legislation was to prevent the construction of a 1,300-bed facility in Dwight, a small town roughly 80 miles southwest of Chicago. Immigration Centers of America, or ICA, the private prison company that attempted to open the facility, has also been defeated in two other locations: in Michigan, where the governor vetoed its proposal, and in Wisconsin, where the town of New Richmond said the proposal for a 500-bed facility didn’t fit with the city’s long-term plan. Months later, in October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation that bans for-profit lockups in that state — both criminal and civil. Specifically, the new law bars the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in the state from entering into or renewing a contract with a private company after Jan. 1. Privately run facilities will be banned altogether by 2028. GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies, runs dozens of facilities across the country, including the Northwest ICE Processing Center. It has challenged California’s law in court. In December, the Florida-based company sued California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra in U.S. District Court in San Diego. The lawsuit argues that the new California ban aims to “undermine and eliminate the congressionally funded and approved enforcement of federal criminal and immigration law.” It is a “transparent attempt by the state to shut down the federal government’s detention efforts within California’s borders” and “a direct assault on the supremacy of federal law,” the lawsuit says.  The suit came days after ICE rushed to sign new contracts for four private immigrant detention centers ahead of the ban. Three other states, Nevada, New York and Iowa, have banned private correctional facilities but not civil detention. When asked whether the California lawsuit made Washington legislators nervous, Ortiz-Self said she was hopeful California would win in the end. In addition, Ortiz-Self said legislators have asked both the Washington state Attorney General’s Office and Gov. Jay Inslee’s staff to review the bill. Mike Faulk, deputy communications director for Inslee, said “the governor supports the bill in principle” but is awaiting the final version. “Staff and agency recommendations have focused on preventing unintended consequences for public safety, like ensuring there are contingency options for state inmates if public facilities are damaged or destroyed in a natural disaster,” Faulk said.  GEO Group, for its part, argued in a statement that the bill, if passed, “would likely do more harm than good for the individuals housed at the Northwest ICE Processing Center.” “The services we provide in our facilities today are in no way different than the high-quality, professional services that we provided for eight years under President Obama’s administration — and in the 20 years since we began operating in Tacoma,” the statement continued. A state ban, the statement said, would only lead inmates currently at the Northwest ICE Processing Center to be transferred out of state, “isolating them from family and friends and making visits more difficult.” Asked about the bill, Tanya Roman, a spokesperson for ICE in the Pacific Northwest, referred all questions to GEO Group. Nicole D. Porter, director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., advocacy and research center that focuses on incarceration, said the California lawsuit could settle the question of whether “states have legal authority to prevent federal contracts.” Legislators, Porter said, should also focus on decarceration in general and reducing lengths of stay — whether private or public.  Ortiz-Self said the Legislature is also considering smaller bills, including one that would settle the question of whether the Tacoma detention center is considered an “essential public facility.” In 2018, GEO Group sued Tacoma after the city prevented the expansion of the Northwest ICE Processing Center. The company argued that under state law the detention center qualifies as an essential public facility and cannot be barred from expanding. A bill in the Legislature would clarify that private detention facilities are not essential public facilities under the state's Growth Management Act. With regard to the bill that would ban private prisons, Ortiz-Self said:  “It’s more than time for us to be taking a stand.” “I don’t think it’s consistent with what Washington stands for,” she said.

July 21, 2005 The News Tribune
It almost sounds like a bad joke. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of average Washingtonians.  Back in 2003, state lawmakers decided they wanted to host the 2005 National Conference of State Legislatures in Seattle next month. But they had a problem: They’d have to raise about $1.6 million, and state ethics law restricts their ability to solicit contributions from businesses and people hoping to influence them. But those are the very folks with the fat wallets.  So in 2003, lawmakers stuck an exemption into the ethics law – specifically tailored to allow them to raise money for the conference and not have to report their role in raising it.  The News Tribune’s Ken Vogel reports that pledges have poured in from businesses such as MoneyTree Inc., a payday lender ($25,000); Corrections Corp. of America, a private prison-operating company ($10,000); tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris’ parent company ($50,000); and the International Speedway Corp., the Florida-based company that hopes to build a NASCAR racetrack in Kitsap County ($5,000).  All these companies had issues before the Legislature this past session or will in the next session. An executive with the speedway company, in fact, acknowledged that its pledge could help its chances of winning legislative approval for a public subsidy of its Kitsap County project. Contributors’ lobbyists will get valuable face time during the conference with state legislators at such events as a Mariners game and a party at the Space Needle. The more they contribute, the more access they get – including extra passes to social and business events.  That quid pro quo sounds a whole lot like influence peddling – the very reason the state ethics law was created to prevent.  Average Washingtonians – who might oppose the rates payday lenders charge, private prison operation, laws that favor cigarette manufacturers and subsidizing a NASCAR tack — don’t get the same effect from firing off an e-mail to their state legislators as those contributors get for their big donations.  The conference is projected to have an economic impact of about $17.5 million on the Seattle area. That’s great. What’s troublesome is the bang its big donors expect to get for their bucks.

July 17, 2005 The News Tribune
State lawmakers are well on their way to raising $1.6 million for an upcoming national conference in Seattle, thanks to an exemption they inserted into state ethics law. The exemption, which was approved in 2003 and attracted little attention, allows them to solicit unlimited contributions for the conference from companies and groups hoping to influence the Legislature. In exchange, contributors get to rub elbows with lawmakers during the five-day event next month, which mixes wonky seminars on state government trends with social events, such as a Seattle Mariners game and a party on the Space Needle’s observation deck. During the 2005 legislative session, Corrections Corporation of America, which wanted lawmakers to approve a plan that would put it in the running for a lucrative contract to operate a new private prison, kicked in $10,000. Philip Morris’ parent company, which opposed a cigarette tax increase, contributed $50,000. “It seems a violation of the spirit of the ethics laws,” said Bill Asbury, a founding member of the state’s Legislative Ethics Board. The state Public Disclosure Commission, which oversees gift and campaign contribution reporting, also didn’t take a stand on the exemption. “We had no role. It doesn’t affect our agency. It’s not a campaign finance-kind of issue,” said PDC assistant director Doug Ellis, adding he didn’t think contributions for the conference were intended to influence lawmakers. “I just don’t see it as having a major influence on how people vote,” he said. Mary Boyle, a spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based good-government group Common Cause, disagreed with Ellis. She said companies contribute to the National Conference of State Legislatures meeting for the same reasons they give campaign contributions or to the national political conventions: “In situations where companies are giving thousands of dollars, it is an effort to gain access and influence with lawmakers. Just because you have a big wallet, you shouldn’t be the one to get access to the elected official, when many people can’t afford to do the same thing.”

Whatcom County Jail
Bellingham, Washington
Security Specialists Plus

December 20, 2007 The Bellingham Herald
Officials say the recent closure of a privately run minimum-security jail facility will have little financial impact on taxpayers but it could make the county's crowded jails even more cramped. Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo relocated 47 inmates from the Security Specialists Plus (SSP) facility on Baker Creek Place in early November after allegations of sexual contact between an employee and inmate. Elfo suggested that the county not renew its approximately $500,000 annual contract with SSP, whose employees have been cited in the past for misconduct, including smuggling contraband and stealing from prisoners. Elfo and county Jail Chief Wendy Jones said the county's interim jail had enough room to absorb the new inmates, since bookings naturally tend to dip this time of year as judges are more lenient and more police officers are on vacation during the holidays. But both acknowledge that closing the facility could worsen the jail-crowding problems that have plagued the county. "We knew as the population continued to grow, we were going to have to look at additional space," Jones said. "This just moved that timetable forward." Elfo said he was exploring several options to deal with the problem until a new jail facility is finished in about 2014. Jones said the county already pays a fixed amount to run the interim jail. So the county can now keep the approximately $35 per inmate per day that was paid to SSP to house inmates. The woman whose actions caused the ruckus, Tammra J. Baechler, 35, of Sumas, pleaded guilty to custodial misconduct Nov. 29 and was given an 18-month deferred sentence and required to perform community service, according to court records. Baechler had been having consensual sexual contact with a 38-year-old female inmate from Ferndale. SSP owner Greg Rustand said word of the county's action concerning his company was "like getting kicked in the stomach." He said his company had worked to improve its facility and hiring practices after previous incidents.

November 7, 2007 Bellingham Herald
Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo has ordered 47 inmates removed from a privately run minimum security jail after allegations of sexual contact between a jailer and inmate. Elfo is suggesting that the county not renew its $500,000 yearly contract with Security Specialists Plus to house inmates after the arrest of Tammra J. Baechler, 35, of Everson. An investigation by Elfo’s office alleges that Baechler had consensual sexual contact with a 38-year-old Ferndale woman who was serving time at SSP’s Baker Creek Place facility on a domestic violence-related crime. Elfo said the contact lasted for two weeks beginning Oct. 23 and consisted of kissing, fondling body parts and passing notes of a sexual nature. Baechler, who had been working for SSP since August, was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of custodial misconduct and booked into Whatcom County Jail. Elfo said the alleged sexual contact was the “latest in a series of events” that have raised questions about allowing SSP employees or any other private contractor to supervise county inmates. “I can’t in good conscience allow inmates to be under (SSP) supervision,” Elfo said. The county has paid SSP to house approximately 50 minimum security prisoners for the last 14 years. The company’s yearly contract is up for renewal in December, Elfo said. SSP owner Greg Rustand said he had not heard of the allegations and was disappointed by Elfo’s reprimand. Rustand pointed out that a male county jail employee was charged with custodial sexual misconduct in March for allegedly fondling a female inmate. “If you go to any business, they’re going to have employee problems,” Rustand said. “For them to go ahead and say, ‘Gee whiz, they’re a private company, they’re bad’ … I’m shocked.” Rustand said his company has saved county taxpayers millions of dollars over the years, because it can house inmates much more cheaply than the county can. This is not the first time SSP has come under scrutiny for employee misconduct. In March 2006, an SSP employee admitted to stealing money from an inmate’s personal locker. In August 2006, an SSP guard pleaded guilty to smuggling tobacco and marijuana into the facility for inmates. After those incidents, SSP conducted an internal investigation. Among the recommendations was better screening of applicants for guard positions. Rustand said his company has done everything possible to screen new employees, including extensive background checks and requiring employees to be licensed security personnel through the state. Elfo said Wednesday’s arrest was the final straw against SSP, whose employees are not subject to the same level of preemployment scrutiny as county jailers. State law allows the county to do a polygraph test on potential employees, while private contractors cannot. SSP also lost its $378,000 annual animal control contract with the county this year after Elfo’s office seized 41 llamas from a field on Olson Road in Ferndale. Neighbors told officials they had been calling SSP for years about animal neglect on the property. Rustand questioned whether the county’s response to the jail allegations stemmed from the llama incident and individuals playing politics. “(After the llama incident) we heard through the grapevines that it was about getting rid of the Rustands,” he said. “Since then it’s been somebody’s goal to go ahead and do that.” Elfo said the county has several options for housing inmates taken out of the private facility. Because a majority of SSP inmates are jailed for misdemeanors or minor felony convictions and require the lowest level of supervision, many will be moved to similar work release programs in the countyrun interim jail. Booking inmates into the main jail, using electronic home monitoring or asking courts to release inmates who have served more than two-thirds of their sentence with good behavior are also options, Elfo said. County Executive Pete Kremen said the allegations concerned him. “I certainly take very seriously the recommendations from the sheriff and I highly respect his opinion,” Kremen said. “I certainly will work with him on the issue.” Kremen said the county may consider purchasing or renting SSP’s facility if it does not renew the contract.