On Tuesday morning, April 9, dozens of activists from this week’s Trans and Womyn’s Action Camp (TWAC) descended on the national headquarters for Geo Group, a for-profit prison company with a record of shady lobbying deals and human rights violations.
The morning’s activities began when the trans and female activists entered the office. Most began a song and dance singing, “Tearing families apart; Geo’s making money. Lobbying for racist laws; Geo’s making money. Locking up all our youth; Geo’s making money.” Meanwhile, the four arrestees locked themselves to the office doors and three other activists dropped a 30 x 15 ft banner which read ‘Millions Behind Bars = Billions for Geo-Who’s the Real Criminal?” from the fourth floor of the building. When Police arrived most of the protesters moved to public property to continue to rally as Police arrived with four trucks and three officer vehicles in a futile attempt to cut through the activists locks. Police was told that they would unlock themselves if Geo CEO George Zoley would come to speak to them. When the request was refused, the activists said they would unlock if police would let the media in. Police refused and continued to restrict the media to a ‘staging’ area nearly a quarter mile away. Eventually, the doors of the Geo office were removed in order to arrest the protesters.
One of the protesters, a transgender woman from Liberia named Grace Lawrence who was held in immigrant detention centers from 2003-2006, explained why fighting against for-profit prisons and Geo Group is so important to her. “In private detention centers, trans people are put in isolation, which is solitary confinement, for 23hours a day.” Grace was granted asylum, but she continues to work for prisoner rights in an effort to spare other immigrants and trans people from mistreatment. Even as an advocate, she finds it harder to address human rights violations within for-profit detention facilities: “Each time I called ICE, they would say they are not responsible for what goes on in those private facilities.”
By locking down and protesting, TWAC sent a message to GEO that pulling out of the FAU stadium deal doesn’t get them off the hook, and the struggle against for-profit prison and detention centers will continue. Cancelling their contract with FAU does nothing to change Geo’s long record of human rights abuse of detainees at taxpayer expense, nor does it diminish Geo’s profit-driven influence on anti-immigrant legislation and mass incarceration.
Geo Group owns and operates 96 for-profit prisons and detention centers. Using tax-payer funding, they push legislation that targets youth, poor, transgender, and people of color in order to increase incarceration rates and their own profits. Over the last decade, GEO has spent millions lobbying the federal government. This lobbying has paid off. In 2005 they received $33.6 million in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts, and in 2011 they received $216 million in ICE contracts. GEO group is a member of ALEC, a membership group that works to write model legislation with multi-national corporations and influences legislators to pass laws that will benefit its corporate members.
In for profit prisons, overhead reduction efforts turn the focus away from safety, justice, and rehabilitation in order to make a few people rich. Allowing rampant sexual assault, withholding proper medical care, and turning the prison into a sweat-shop producing consumer goods are just a few examples of how Geo Group treats humans as livestock to be used for the benefit of greedy CEOs.
This protest comes on the heels of TWAC, a weeklong gathering of almost 100 female and transgender activists to share skills and campaign information, and organize opposition to the prison-industrial complex. Prisons and immigrant detention centers, Geo’s primary investments, target poor people, people of color, and transgender individuals. As female and transgender organizers, we are more vulnerable to violence within these institutions. Geo has a clear record of human rights abuses within its facilities.