A private prison firm with multi-million dollar contracts with the federal government is violating anti-human trafficking laws, according to a lawsuit filed in 2014. The suit is filed on behalf of about 60,000 men and women who were previously held as well as others still detained at a private prison in Aurora, Colo.
The lawsuit’s class action status is currently under review by a federal appeals court.
Geo Group Inc. officials threaten to place immigrant detainees in solitary confinement if they refuse to work without pay. The immigrant detainees allege the threats violate the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law aimed at eliminating human trafficking,
“It would be forced labor for someone to say, ‘We’ll arrest you for not working for me.’ It’s similarly forced labor to say, ‘We’re going to remove you from all contact with other people,’” the immigrant detainees’ lawyer, David Seligman, said to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Seligman also said that a work program for detainees that pays $1 a day gives Geo “unjust enrichment,” by increasing profits through cheap labor.
In the Bloomberg Businessweek article, Geo claims it’s being scapegoated over what’s really a public-policy dispute. “Geo’s status as a government contractor puts it in the position of having to answer for what are essentially grievances against congressional and DHS/ICE [Department of Homeland Security/Immigration and Customs Enforcement] policies,” the company stated in a March 2017 court filing.
In August 2016, President Obama’s Department of Justice said it would phase out its use of privately run federal prisons. The next day, a Geo subsidiary donated $100,000 to a super Political Action Committee supporting Donald Trump, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. In 2017, Trump reversed Obama’s private prison policy and awarded Geo a detention center contract. The company’s prison stock has risen 70 percent since Trump’s election.