USA: GEO Group faces lawsuit over alleged use of forced labour at immigrant detention facility

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26 November 2018

USA: CoreCivic & Geo Group face lawsuit over using detainee labour at New Mexico immigration detention facility

Author: Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian

"Private prison companies served with lawsuits over using detainee labor", 25 Nov 2018

When a New Mexico immigration detention facility needed people to cook for inmates and clean its halls, it found a solution already inside its walls.  For $0.50 or less per hour, detainees such as Mbah Emmanuel Abi and Desmond Ndambi, who have since been granted political asylum, cooked meals for their fellow inmates and worked in the facility library...The practice has been compared to slave labor and has brought a pile of lawsuits to the doorsteps of the country’s two biggest private prison companies, CoreCivic and Geo Group...

In a recently filed class-action lawsuit, Abi, Ndambi and one other man who fled Cameroon in 2017, brought wage theft claims against CoreCivic’s Cibola county correctional center in New Mexico.  Both CoreCivic and Geo Group have said the pay is compliant with a voluntary work program mandated by the government, but attorneys said the labor is not voluntary because it is needed to pay for items such as toothpaste or to make phone calls to loved ones...The New Mexico case was filed in a federal court in Maryland last week and centers on CoreCivic’s alleged violation of minimum wage laws...

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15 June 2018

Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking & Forced Labor in For-Profit Detention Facilities

Author: Alexandra F. Levy, The Human Trafficking Legal Center

"Fact Sheet: Human Trafficking & Forced Labor in For-Profit Detention Facilities. Strategic Litigation in U.S. Federal Courts", 2018

...In the past four years, civil attorneys have filed cutting-edge federal trafficking cases against individuals and entities associated with the U.S. penal system. At least 17 civil cases include allegations that private prison corporations, municipalities, and detention facilities (among others) have violated federal anti-trafficking, involuntary servitude, and forced labor laws.  Six of these cases involve claims of abuse committed by private corporations against civil immigration detainees. An additional six cases charge that municipalities and other officials conspired to create a system of debt servitude...This factsheet analyzes this litigation, drawing lessons from both ongoing and resolved cases...Plaintiffs subjected to involuntary servitude or forced labor as a consequence of criminal convictions face significant barriers to successful litigation under the TVPRA [Trafficking Victims Protection Act]. However, prisons and other post-conviction facilities do not have carte-blanche to abuse inmates and exploit their labor.  Several ongoing cases...are testing the extent to which the TVPRA can serve as a bulwark against abuse in all detention facilities...Civil lawsuits brought by indigent people detained in debtors’ prisons and forced to work off their debts have already resulted in widespread reforms.  Claims filed by civil immigration detainees have challenged corporations for their otherwise largely-unchecked treatment of detainees.  And “diversion programs” alleged to fraudulently obtain forced labor are now before the courts...

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18 August 2017

USA: Rights groups file briefs to support plaintiffs in lawsuit against GEO Group over alleged unpaid labour at for-profit prison

Author: Erin Mulvaney, National Law Journal (USA)

"Advocacy Groups Side With Plaintiffs Alleging Unpaid Labor At For-Profit Prison", 17 Aug 2017

Advocacy groups have weighed in on a lawsuit against the nation's second-largest for-profit prison provider, arguing in recently filed "friend-of-the-court briefs" that GEO Group Inc.'s alleged practices of relying on cheap and unpaid labor by detained immigrants underscores abuses to this vulnerable community...

Over the last week, a slew of advocacy organizations, including The Southern Poverty Law Center, Public Citizen and a group of national immigrant rights groups, filed briefs that point to the broader implications of the case — noting issues around human trafficking and the for-profit prison industry. They also discussed the importance of class actions for vulnerable immigrant groups...

The lawsuit claims that GEO amassed enormous profits through "forced labor" provided to the Aurora prison through a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The suit takes aim at the company's "sanitation policy" that required ICE detainees to work as janitors without pay under the threat of solitary confinement. It also targets a "voluntary work program" that allegedly paid detainees only $1 a day. Two classes were certified by the Denver federal court that could include between 40,000 to 60,000 laborers that were detained in Aurora over the last 10 years...

In a statement, GEO responded that the volunteer work program at all of its 143 immigration facilities, as well as the minimum wage rates and standards, are set by the government...

"GEO has consistently, strongly refuted the allegations made in this lawsuit, and we intend to continue to vigorously defend our company against these claims," the company said in the statement...

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1 March 2017

USA: Lawsuit against GEO Group over forced labour in immigrant detention facility accepted as class action

Author: Betsy Woodruff, Daily Beast (USA)

"Detainees Sue Private Prison for ‘Forced Labor'", 28 Feb 2017

The nation’s second largest private prison company is facing some serious legal challenges......[A] federal judge ruled that current and former detainees held at an immigrant detention center in Colorado can join a class-action lawsuit against GEO Group, a private prison company.  The plaintiffs allege that the GEO Group forced detainees to work for extremely low wages or for no wages at all, and in some cases threatened detainees with solitary confinement as punishment if they refused to work...[O]ne of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, [said]...“This is the first time that a private prison company has ever been accused of forced labor, and this is the first time that a judge has ever found that the claims can go forward under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the bans in federal law on forced labor.”  GEO Group rejects the allegations.  “We have consistently, strongly refuted these allegations...” a spokesman for the company, told The Daily Beast...“GEO’s Aurora facility is being run on the backs of detainees, with GEO’s profits flowing from abusing this cheap detainee labor.”...The lawsuit could potentially... make immigrant detention more expensive or less profitable...

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9 July 2015

Lawsuit: Immigrants got $1 a day for work at private prison

Author: Associated Press

Immigrants who were detained at a suburban Denver facility while they awaited deportation proceedings are suing the private company that held them, alleging they were paid $1 a day to do janitorial work, sometimes under threat of solitary confinement…On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge John L. Kane declined a request from…GEO Group Inc. to dismiss the claims against it…The company has denied wrongdoing and said in court documents the work is voluntary and it is abiding by federal guidelines in paying $1 a day…Attorneys for the immigrants say…the judge's ruling clears the way to gather more information from GEO through discovery proceedings about how many detainees were put to work…GEO responded in a statement that its facilities “provide high-quality services in safe, secure and humane residential environments, and our company strongly refutes allegations to the contrary.”

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6 July 2015

Menocal, et al. v. The Geo Group, Inc. - Memorandum Opinion and Order

Author: US District Court for the District of Colorado

[Full text of court's decision allowing plaintiffs' claims under the Torture Victim Protection Act to move forward.  Plaintiffs' original complaint is here.]

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