One of the largest private prison companies in the country, the GEO Group, has now opened an immigrant prison in Baldwin, Michigan. The GEO Group landed a contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to open what is called a “Criminal Alien Requirement” facility, or shadow prison, at North Lake. This prison has 1800 beds for caging non-citizens who have been convicted of federal crimes. Re-entry after previously being deported from the United States is a felony, and about 32% of the imprisoned non-citizens are re-entry cases. An additional 53% of the prisoners are there on drug convictions. The North Lake Correctional Facility, the only facility of its kind in the Midwest, is one piece of the Trump administration’s larger efforts to expand their ability to detain, incarcerate, and deport immigrants. Every human should have the right to freedom of movement and we should defend this right for every immigrant by opposing North Lake Correctional, the ICE detention center in the Calhoun County Jail, and the increase in ICE raids in Michigan and around the country.
The last facility of this type in the midwest, in Youngstown, Ohio, did not have its contract renewed in 2015 after the ACLU cited multiple abuses at the prison. Their list included extreme use of isolation, lack of appropriate medical care, overpopulation, lack of programming and recreation, and restricting family visitation.
These Criminal Alien Requirement facilities are not just deportation centers. They imprison immigrants for years before deporting them, so GEO group can further profit from the anti-immigrant movement.
In their pursuit of profit, the GEO Group has been subject to many lawsuits regarding inhumane conditions, improper medical care, torture, forced labor, sexual abuse, and deaths at their facilities. Their business model is based on cutting corners and extreme exploitation. Furthermore, private detention centers run by GEO and other companies play a central role in the overall persecution of immigrants in the United States; today over 60% of people in ICE detention are held in private facilities, with GEO being the largest ICE contractor.
In addition to its brutal treatment of immigrants, the GEO Group is also preying on the people of Lake County, the poorest county in the state of Michigan. The GEO Group promised to hire the majority of workers at North Lake, but from figures available when they opened in October, they had only hired 69 from a total of approximately 300 positions. The GEO Group claims to want to help the Baldwin community but they force their new hires to jump through various hoops such as credit checks, effectively excluding the poorest and most marginalized from chance of employment. And when people desperate for a job do get hired at the prison they become the ones enacting the GEO Group’s abuse. Unsurprisingly these positions have a reputation for high turnover rates and poor working conditions. No wage is worth working as a concentration camp guard and the people of Lake County deserve better than the GEO Group.
No Detention Centers in Michigan is taking action to stop the GEO Group and to close the North Lake Correctional Facility.
We have pressured Prudential Financial, one of the largest stockholders in GEO, to divest from the private prison industry. So far, a series of banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, SunTrust, BNP Paribas, FifthThird Bank, and PNC Bank have all made firm commitments to stop financing private prisons. Prudential should be next on the list. If people around the country continue to disrupt Prudential’s business, by refusing to work with them, picketing their offices, or by organizing other disruptive actions, they will be forced to divest and the private prison industry will take another hit.
As everyone in Michigan and elsewhere continues to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, we are adapting and confronting the heightened dangers now facing the immigrants incarcerated at North Lake. We will keep fighting for their safety and freedom.