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USA: GEO Group faces lawsuits over alleged use of forced labour at immigrant detention facilities

GEO Group has been accused of relying on cheap and unpaid labor by detained immigrants and is facing several lawsuits alleging that “voluntary” work programs at their facilities violate state minimum-wage laws. Several people currently or formerly living in detention have alleged that they were threatened if they didn't work and worried they could not afford basic commissary items without performing labor for GEO. 

We sought a response from GEO Group to these allegations; the response is below. In its response, GEO said that the US "federal government sets the performance-based national detention standards which govern the Voluntary Work Program at all ICE Processing Centers" and "any allegation that individuals, in ICE Processing Centers, are retaliated against or have to volunteer to work in order to have access to, or pay for, basic hygiene products or food is completely baseless and demonstrably false."

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5 December 2019

A Judge Says Thousands of Detainees May Sue a Prison Company for Using Them as a “Captive Labor Force”

Author: Madison Pauly, Mother Jones

Early one morning, Abdiaziz Karim was sleeping in his new dorm in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center when an officer woke him up. The guard pointed out graffiti on the wall and a light fixture smeared with toothpaste, and demanded that Karim, a Somali waiting for an asylum hearing, clean them. When Karim protested, the guard got angry...

Since 2014, a series of lawsuits filed in federal courts from Washington to Georgia have collected similar allegations of coercive labor practices inside for-profit immigration detention centers run by GEO and its main competitor, CoreCivic. The lawsuits claim that the companies that operate the detention centers are violating minimum wage, unjust enrichment, and antislavery laws by coercing detainees to work for free, or, in some cases, $1 per day, by threatening them with punishment and depriving them of basic necessities...

Karim, who spent two years in Adelanto before losing his asylum case and being deported to Somalia in August, is one of a group of former detainees who have brought a class-action lawsuit against GEO Group for allegedly profiting off “a readily available, captive labor force.” Last Tuesday, a federal judge in California allowed the lawsuit to proceed as a national class action, with Karim and his three co-plaintiffs representing the tens of thousands of detainees who have been locked up in GEO facilities since 2007...

The detainees argue that GEO is violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits forced labor. In court documents, GEO’s lawyers have claimed that no detainee was ever placed in solitary confinement for failing to work, and that the company’s sanitation policies do not violate the requirements of their contracts. The company may appeal the judge’s decision to authorize the lawsuit as a class action.


[See GEO Group's Response here] 



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7 November 2019

Emails show GEO Group employee threatening ICE detainees who didn't clean their jails

Author: Jerry Iannelli, Miami New Times

Immigration detainees are held on civil, not criminal, charges. Therefore, imprisoned immigrants have argued for years they cannot legally be forced to work like prisoners while held in civil detention. In December 2017, Raul Novoa — a Mexican man living in Los Angeles on a green card — sued the GEO Group... He alleges that detainees were forced to work for the company for as little as $1 per day and that the absurdly small wages were illegal for detainees who hadn't been convicted of crimes... [F]ive other immigrant detainees have submitted statements to the court saying that to afford necessities such as toothpaste, they were forced to work for GEO's borderline slave wages. Other exhibits have included internal GEO emails from jail staffers complaining that immigrants were not scrubbing the detention facilities well enough... GEO has responded to Novoa's allegations in court... [GEO] claimed that, because U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement technically pays the detainees, GEO does not "employ" the immigrants and therefore is not subject to California's minimum-wage law. GEO also claims its "work program," which pays $1 daily, is entirely voluntary.

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Company response
7 November 2019

Response from GEO Group to allegations of forced & underpaid labour in detention centres

Author: GEO Group

The federal government sets the performance-based national detention standards which govern the Voluntary Work Program at all ICE Processing Centers... This is not and has never been a program implemented unilaterally by service providers like GEO. Furthermore, the wage rates associated with this federal government program are established under long-established guidelines set by the United States Congress... Any allegation that individuals, in ICE Processing Centers, are retaliated against or have to volunteer to work in order to have access to, or pay for, basic hygiene products or food is completely baseless and demonstrably false. Hygiene products are provided to individuals in ICE Processing Centers managed by GEO on demand, upon request, and free of charge... The ICE Processing Centers GEO manages deliver high quality food services with three daily meals, free of charge.

Download the full document here

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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