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GEO Group: Raking in Dough at the Cost of Human Suffering

Florida, the state that gave us George Bush's first term, Creed, George Zimmerman and death metal, also headquarters the second largest for-profit prison company in the United States, GEO Group. Since opening in 1984, the operation has expanded to 98 facilities throughout the United States. Along the way, GEO Group has developed a reputation for mismanagement, human rights abuses and an insatiable appetite for maximizing profits.

Brave New Films, partnering with the ACLU and The Nation, profiled GEO Group in their short video, “Mistreating People + Lobbying = More Money,” part of their Beyond Bars series.

In the video, former ACLU attorney Will Harrell spoke about his investigation into one of GEO Group’s facilities in Coke County, Texas, saying, “Coke County run by GEO was the worst facility that I've seen in this country. Without question. Without comparison."

In order to maximize profits, GEO Group works the political system by hiring lobbyists and donating to political candidates. They keep their staffing at a minimum which have, in some cases, provoked negligent medical care, prisons riots and hunger strikes.

CEO and founder of GEO Group, George Zoley earns an estimated $6 million annually from a combination of salary, stock awards, and other compensation.

Last year GEO Group donated $6 million to Florida Atlantic University – which Zoley  attended and is a current member of the board of trustees – to name FAU’s football stadium after the company. But a petition forced FAU to drop naming the stadium after GEO Group.

Zoley shares close ties to Florida Governor Rick Scott. Last month Zoley hosted a fundraiser for Scott's reelection campaign. The event was $3,000 a pop – $10,000 for VIP reception and a photo opportunity. One shudders at the thought of those conversations.

GEO Group’s close ties to education and politics reveal the interlocking web of the prison industrial complex. GEO Group has told its investors that loosening drug policies and reforming our immigration system will be bad for business. In other words, as long as our prison population skyrockets, so too will profits.

As bleak as the situation may be however, an opposition is slowly gaining momentum across the country. On the legislative end, two bills designed to curb mass incarceration are currently in the works: the Smarter Sentencing Act and the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act.

The Smarter Sentencing Act, a bipartisan legislation, which the Department of Justice estimates if passed, will save taxpayers $24 billion over the next 20 years, will reduce mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders and allow judges to impose shorter sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, among other provisions. 

The other bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, reforms prisoners’ reintegration into society by expanding prison jobs, academic classes and drug treatment programs so that inmates may prepare for post-jail life. Recidivism rates are high because ex-prisoners are often treated as second-class citizens, unable to find jobs to sustain themselves. This bill also ties early-release credits to the successful completion of recidivism-reduction programs.

GEO Group, along with other for-profit prison companies have facilitated the rise of mass incarceration over the last several decades. Despite declining crime rates, incarceration rates have steadily risen due in no small part to the perverse profit incentive. In short, a company that profits off the lives of human beings –for annual revenues of $1.6 billion – is at odds with a rational society. It is up to us to fight these for-profit prisons.