The world's 2nd largest private prison company and the largest "community corrections" and e-carceration business. Owns and operates prisons and immigrant detention centers in the US and abroad. Provides the government with other services as part of the criminal punishment system.
The GEO Group (GEO) is the second largest private prison corporation in the United States, and the largest provider of community corrections and electronic monitoring services in the world. As of March 2019, GEO manages or owns 94,800 beds within 134 correctional and detention facilities in the United States, Australia, South Africa, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
In 2018, GEO reported $2.33 billion in revenue, an increase from $2.18 billion in 2016. ICE contracts represent GEO Group’s single largest source of revenue accounting for 28 percent, an increase from 18 percent in 2015. 43 percent of GEO’s revenue is derived from federal contracts with the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the U.S. Marshals and continues to increase.
One of GEO’s growth strategies is to acquire existing, smaller prison companies and absorb their contracts. In 2016, GEO stated in its annual report that it had spent over $1.7 billion in acquiring businesses, including LCS Facilities from LCS Correction Services, Inc., including its eight prisons and detention facilities, totaling more than 6,500 beds.
In 2019, following the decision of several major U.S. banks to stop extending loans to GEO Group, the company acknowledged to its shareholders the material impact of these actions, saying that “if other banks or third parties (...) decide in the future to cease providing us with debt financing or doing business with us, such determinations could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.” Following JP Morgan Chase’s May 2019 announcement on the matter, GEO Group’s stock dropped by 16 percent. The company also admitted that its business could be harmed by “increased public resistance” to private prisons.
Private Prisons in the US
In 2018, 64 percent, or $1.5 billion, of GEO’s revenue was derived from U.S. corrections and detention facilities. As of December 2018, GEO contracts with states and the federal government to operate and/or manage 69 correctional facilities, with over 75,000 beds, and it is continuing to expand its portfolio of private prisons and immigration detention centers.
While private prisons companies claim to lower the national recidivism rate through "correctional" services, these companies’ profit model creates a perverse incentive to keep as many people in custody for as long as possible in order to maximize revenues. The profit model of private facilities works further against the social goals of rehabilitation because it is driven by the incentive to cut costs, which leads to inadequate staff training, a high turnaround for guards, and poor services.
Many GEO contracts include occupancy clauses that require the contracting agency to keep the occupation of the facility at a certain level or face penalization. These occupancy clauses incentivize “tough-on-crime” legislation because government agencies are required to incarcerate a certain number of people. Additionally, GEO has been accused of understaffing and overcrowding prisons to cut costs. These measures have led to increased rates of assaults, riots, escapes, and deaths.
Immigrant Detention Centers
In 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts represented GEO Group’s single largest source of revenue. From 2013 to 2019, GEO’s revenues from ICE contracts have continually increased from 16 percent of the company’s total revenue in 2013 to 28 percent in 2018. From 2017 to 2019, GEO Group has surpassed CoreCivic to become the largest ICE facility operator in the United States, receiving over $500 million in ICE contracts in 2017 alone.
As of March 2019, GEO Group runs fourteen ICE detention facilities with a combined detention capacity of 14,966, which the company is continually seeking to expand. On May 2, 2019, GEO Group announced a new ten-year contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to reopen North Lake Correctional Facility, a GEO Group prison in Northern Michigan, which has the capacity to hold 1,800 immigrants. Additionally in 2019, GEO Group is expanding its South Louisiana ICE facility’s detention capacity by 1,000 beds. Both projects are planned to be completed by Fall 2019 and increase GEO’s ICE detention capacity to nearly 18,000.
The company directly profits from the US. government’s anti-immigration zero tolerance policy. In a 2017 shareholder conference call, GEO Group Senior Vice President and former ICE Director of Enforcement and Removal Operations David Venturella said, “ICE is beginning to implement their interior enforcement strategy... We’ll start to see the benefits of that through increased apprehensions and increased detention in the interior part of the United States, not necessarily along the Southern Border.”
GEO Group also plays a major role in the detention of immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border including detaining separated families and children. GEO operates the Karnes Family Residential Center in Texas, one of the only three ICE family detention centers that detain families and children, who some are as young as 27 days old. As of March 2019, the GEO’s Karnes Family Residential Center can detain up to 1,158 people. In August 2018, immigrant detainees protested what they described as animal-like treatment at GEO’s Karnes County facility. Beginning in August 2018, GEO Group has also been a target of protest by the Dream Defenders, which called for a day of action to “make GEO’s cages and profits visible to all” as part of its “GEO Cages” campaign. GEO responded to the Dream Defenders’ criticism by threatening to sue the human rights organization.
Many of GEO’s detention centers have become the source of public scrutiny. In early December 2017, Kamyar Samimi, who had resided in the United States as a legal resident since 1979, died in custody at the GEO Group run Aurora, Colorado ICE detention facility. On April 9, 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union sued GEO Group and the Aurora, Colorado ICE immigrant detention facility for allegedly deliberately stalling and withholding information regarding the death of Samimi. The Aurora Detention facility has faced repeated reports and public scrutiny over the health and treatment of detainees with multiple outbreaks of mumps and measles. In January 2019, poor sanitation conditions in GEO’s Aurora, Colorado ICE Detention facility led to a chicken pox outbreak for the second time in three months. The resulting crackdown and 21 day quarantining of detainees prevented them from attending immigration hearings, consulting with lawyers, receiving medical care, or having recreation time. In June 2019, a report by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General stated, “detainees at ICE's Aurora facility are not being properly cared for.'' The report further detailed that GEO Group’s Aurora facility violated ICE’s already low standards for outdoor recreation, in-person visitation and handcuffing detainees in solitary confinement. At the time of the report, six months after the January outbreak there were still 152 detainees at the Aurora facility in quarantine for mumps and chickenpox. On July 2019, a former ICE detainee sued GEO Group for severely beating him until he lost consciousness while detained at the Aurora facility from 2017 to 2018.
In 2015, 400 detainees launched a hunger strike to demand better medical access at GEO Group’s Adelanto, California ICE detention facility. Despite these protests, the contract was renewed with GEO in 2016 and extended until 2021. In 2017, detainees launched another hunger strike to bring attention to the lack of medical access, poor food, and high bail. Between April and June 2017, three detainees died in GEO’s Adelanto Detention Facility due to lack of proper medical access. In October 2018, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General reported “serious issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care” at GEO Group’s Adelanto detention center. Starting on March 14, 2019, some 150 immigrant detainees at the Adelanto Detention Facility began a hunger strike demanding adequate medical care, an end to abusive treatment and access to edible food. The strike comes on the heels of reports of abuse by guards and general lack of care within the detention center. ICE officials have admitted in press releases to force feeding detainees on hunger strikes and immigrant justice groups have reported that officials placed detainees in solitary confinement as punishment for hunger striking.
Between 2014 and 2019, a series of lawsuits have been filed by former detainees in GEO Group detention centers alleging that GEO Group threatened detainees with solitary confinement if they did not participate in forced labor. Detainees were compensated at sometimes less than $1 a day. In March 2017, a class action lawsuit was filed against GEO for forcing detainees to work at its center in Aurora, Colorado, violating federal trafficking laws. In May 2019, a federal judge ruled against GEO Group, ordering the company to pay immigrant detainees an hourly minimum wage. In July 2019, the Daily Beast published communications between GEO Group and ICE where GEO Group executives requested that ICE help pay the litigation costs of the lawsuits. In effect, GEO Group hoped taxpayers would cover their legal bills for allegedly violating human trafficking laws.
Along with operating private adult prisons and immigrant detention facilities, GEO Group is one of the largest and most prominent operators of youth prisons in the United States. As of March 2019, GEO Group owns eleven youth prisons and one ICE family detention center specifically built to incarcerate youth with a combined detention capacity of 2,393.
Apart from the inherent unethical nature of incarcerating youth in for-profit faciliteis, GEO Group’s for-profit facilities have a particularly poor record of systematic abuse, torture and mistreatment of incarcerated youth. In 2007, the state of Texas shut down a GEO Group operated juvenile detention center after investigators discovered “horrific living conditions for inmates, who lacked access to education, were terrified of attacks by other prisoners and were only allowed out of their cells to shower”.
In 2010 the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against GEO Group regarding their operation of the nation’s largest juvenile prison, the Walnut Grove Correctional Facility, alleging that GEO Group staff, “kicked and punched incarcerated youth while handcuffed,” and, “stripped youth naked and placed them in solitary confinement for weeks.” . A 2012 Justice Department investigation accused the company of allowing “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate” in the prison. The Justice Department’s chief of special litigation described the prison as, “chaotic, poorly run, dangerous, didn't provide services, highly sexualized and highly violent.” Furthemore the report described GEO Group staff having sex with incarcerated youth as well as GEO Group guards brutally beat[ing] youth and us[ing] excessive pepper spray as a first response.” The prison was ultimately closed in 2016.
Operating Facilities Outside the US
GEO owns and/or manages prisons and detention facilities in Australia, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. In 2018, GEO’s international operations accounted for 11% percent of the total revenue. GEO operates five out of ten private prison facilities in Australia, where critics have claimed that private prison operators lack transparency and make it impossible to gauge whether or not these companies actually reduce recidivism. In the United Kingdom, GEO manages the Dungavel House Immigration Removal Centre, a 249-bed immigration detention center.
GEO’s immigrant detention centers have faced public scrutiny over the deaths of detainees. In South Africa, GEO manages a prison with a capacity of 3,000. In 2014, a riot broke out at the facility after prisoners claimed to be underfed and abused. In Canada, GEO had built and managed two privately-managed prison facilities, the Miramichi Youth Detention Facility and the Central North Correctional Centre, until they were reverted back to government management due to public pressure. More information on private facilities management abroad is available in the “International Facility Management” section.
In March 2019, an incarcerated individual held in a private prison in Victoria, Australia run by GEO Group successfully won compensation from GEO after having been beaten by GEO Group prison guards while in prison. A GEO Group employee broke the individual’s arm after they refused to leave their cell. The payout was reported being over $10,000.
Facility Financing, Construction, and Ownership
In January of 2013, GEO converted to a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Although GEO operates prisons as its primary form of business, the prisons themselves constitute real estate. By creating an entity called a taxable REIT subsidiary (TRS), the company can separate the operational side of its private prison management from the real estate side of owning and generating income from its facilities. There are special tax advantages for REITs, which generally pay no income tax. GEO also must distribute at least 90 percent of its income to shareholders in the form of dividends.
According to a 2018 report published by In the Public Interest, GEO has been actively pushing governments to consider private financing of new facilities. REITs mark a shift into an ownership and maintenance model designed to increase the real estate business side of the company, which is more profitable than managed-only contracts. One example of the fully privatized finance model is with ICE contract in Conroe whereby GEO designs, builds, finances, and manages the facility. Once completed, GEO will own the facility and in exchange for its own capital used, the government will pay GEO according to a previously decided number of prisoners for a specified amount of time. This model sets a quota that incentivizes the government to keep up incarceration and detention levels. Such private prison construction contracts perpetuate mass incarceration, result in higher financing costs for the public, and often neglect standards for facility maintenance.
Corporate Influence and Lobbying
Through the for-profit model of private prisons, GEO and other private prison companies are incentivized to expand the carceral system by lobbying for more beds, harsher sentencing, and longer periods of “community” supervision. Private prison companies spend millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions in order to encourage policy that favors higher rates of incarceration that benefits their profit-making, Since 1989, GEO and CoreCivic, Inc. have spent over $10 million on political candidates and nearly $25 million on lobbying efforts to ensure that their prison beds are filled. In 2017, alone, GEO spent $1.71 million on government lobbying. GEO donated $250,000 to President Trump’s inaugural fund.
GEO has also been a longtime member and financial supporter of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business-backed group that authors pro-incarceration state legislation for Congress. ALEC is known for its role in the rapid growth of mass incarceration in the 1980s and 1990s, and more recently, its role in expanding prison labor. For this reason, a company’s ALEC affiliation is often enough reason for activists to target the company with demands for divestment from the prison industrial complex.
In May 2017, GEO allegedly lobbied Republican representatives to submit a law to allow immigration detention centers to obtain childcare licenses. This would enable private companies, like GEO, to circumvent a 2015 federal ruling that limits the detention of immigrant children to 20 days. GEO is driven by profit to fill more beds and for longer periods of times. However, GEO argued that this was necessary in order to avoid separating immigrant children from their families at the border. Opposition to detaining children indefinitely claims that detaining children for long periods of time in private prison facilities could negatively affect their mental and physical health due to deteriorating facility conditions.
In June 2018, senators demanded that Texas not grant licenses for new immigrant detention centers until the Trump administration ends its family separation policy. On June 20, 2018, President Trump signed an executive order ending family separations at the border but at the cost of a ruling that limits immigrant child detention to 20 days. Critics of the “compromise” immigration bill claim that it gets rid of legal protections for immigrant family detainees and makes it legal for them to be detained indefinitely until their cases are jointly resolved.
GEO is the largest provider of community correction services, youth services, and electronic monitoring services in the United States. In 2017, almost 23 percent of GEO’s revenue came from its GEO Care division, a near five percent increase from 2016. The division manages the community correction services, including reentry facilities, day reporting centers, youth service facilities, and electronic monitoring services. As of July 2018, GEO manages 51 residential reentry facilities, 63 day-reporting centers, and 12 youth residential facilities.
In April 2017, GEO expanded into the community corrections sector, acquiring Community Education Centers, a company that manages reentry and treatment facilities with a capacity of 12,000 beds, for $353.6 million. The diversification of GEO’s businesses has been a central strategy of growth for GEO. GEO launched the “GEO Continuum of Care” program to combine GEO’s in-house prison services to its post-release services. The program has resulted in increases of $42.4 million at certain facilities in 2016. In 2017, GEO planned to increase its annual investment in GEO continuum of care from $5 million to $10 million.
In line with GEO Group’s attempt to reposition itself as a provider of re-entry services and alternatives to incarceration, the company has expanded its reach within the electronic monitoring (EM) industry through its subsidiary, B.I. Incorporated (BI).
Founded in 1978 to monitor cattle and livestock, BI Incorporated now effectively employs the same technology to monitor and control people. In 2018, BI monitored 144,000 people across all fifty states in the United States using EM technology. BI holds contracts with local, state and federal law enforcement and corrections agencies to monitor immigrants and individuals within the criminal punishment system.
In 2004, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracted BI Incorporated to be the exclusive EM technology provider for its expanded “Alternatives to Detention” program called Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP). The ISAP program was aimed to reduce the costs for ICE of detaining refugees and migrants during their asylum or deportation proceedings by placing them on ankle bracelets that monitored their movements 24/7. BI still holds the exclusive contract for ISAP, which was renewed in 2009 and most recently in August 2014 for an additional five years. From 2004 to 2018, BI Incorporated received over half a billion dollars from ICE to oversee ISAP. The company monitored over 84,000 people under ISAP in 2017 alone.
In 2011, GEO Group purchased BI Incorporated for $415 million dollars. With this acquisition, GEO Group “ensured that whether ICE is expanding detention or expanding alternative forms of detention, they're getting paid”. While the “Alternatives to Detention Program” is designed to focus on people with serious criminal histories or pose a threat to public safety, 89 percent of individuals in ISAP are not considered “dangerous or violent” by ICE’s own criteria. In 2015, immigration attorneys from Texas filed a formal complaint to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, documenting how asylum seekers were deliberately misled and/or coerced into agreeing to wear ankle bracelets in order to be released from detention. The complaints included charges that personnel threatened to withhold medical care for their children if they chose to seek bond hearings instead of agreeing to wear the ankle monitors.
The Illinois Department of Corrections, one of the largest users of electronic monitoring technologies in the country, has contracted with BI Incorporated to surveil and monitor individuals in Illinois since 2003. Between 2014-2019, the Illinois Department of Corrections contracted BI to be its exclusive provider of EM technologies for $6.5 million per year. BI Incorporated also oversees a number of electronic monitoring subsidiaries purchased by GEO Group. For example, Protocol Criminal Justice Inc, an electronic monitoring company acquired by GEO Group in 2014 for $13 million, manages tracking data for monitored individuals on BI electronic monitoring technologies. Between 2010 to 2019, Protocol has received $49 million from the state of Illinois to manage EM data.
GEO Transport, Inc. (GTI) is GEO’s in-house transportation division. Since 2007, GTI has transported over two million incarcerated people over 33 million miles. GTI contracts with the Bureau of Prisons, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the US Marshals, and 27 states. Dream Defenders’ “GEO Cages” campaign has called attention to GEO’s buses for transporting child detainees, which have been widely criticized as “prison buses for babies.”
- In October 2019, the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the largest pension fund in the U.S., announced that it will sell its stocks of private prison companies GEO Group and CoreCivic.
- In August 2019, PNC Bank became the seventh major bank to announce that it would not no longer finance private prisons and immigrant detention centers, including private prison companies CoreCivic and GEO Group.
- On August 6, 2019 the Denver City Council voted to not renew future contracts with private prison companies CoreCivic and GEO Group to operate halfway houses in the city. The future contracts were directed to community corrections facilty operations and would have been worth $10.6 million.
- On July 31, 2019, Barclays PLC announced that it will stop providing future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities, joining other major lenders in shunning the industry. Barclay's current financing of GEO Group would expire in May 2024.
- On July 30, 2019, Adweek reported that the public relations firm Edelman terminated a lucrative contract with GEO Group shortly after agreeing upon it because of internal pressure from Edelman staffers protesting the partnership and worries of potential blowback that could endanger relationships with other clients.
- On July 15, 2019, Fifth Third Bank became the sixth major bank to announce that it would not provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities, including GEO Group. The decision comes at the heels of SunTrust Bank and BNP Paribas' decisions to end future financing of private prison companies.
- On July 12, 2019, BNP Paribas announced it will no longer provide future financing for US private prison operators, including GEO Group. BNP Paribas became the fifth major bank and first foreign bank to distance itself from the industry, announcing the decision only days after SunTrust Bank's decision to end future financing of the private prison industry.
- On July 8, 2019, SunTrust Bank, the fourth largest bank in the US, announced, "Following an ongoing and deliberate process, SunTrust has decided not to provide future financing to companies that manage private prisons and immigration holding facilities." SunTrust's decision follows three other major US banks deciding to end future contractual relations with CoreCivic and GEO Group.
- On July 5, 2019, it was announced that the Candian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) which manages $299 billion USD in pension funds, quietly divested from GEO Group and CoreCivic from their list of foreign public equity holdings. In December 2018, the CPPIB held nearly $8 million USD in GEO Group and CoreCivic stock. Federal MP Charlie Angus argued that public pressure convinced the CPPIB to drop its holdings. Advocacy groups SumOfUs and LeadNow collected more than 55,000 signatures calling for the divestment of GEO Group and CoreCivic from the CPPIB portfolio. The CPPIB has declined to comment on the divestment.
- On March 12, 2019, Wells Fargo CEO Timothy Sloan declared that the bank decided two years ago to end its business relationships with Geo Group. A bank's spokesperson later confirmed that Wells Fargo will "cut ties" with Geo Group when its current obligations expire.
- On March 5, 2019, JPMorgan announced it would no longer finance private operators of prisons and detention centers citing the bank's ongoing evaluations of the costs and benefits of serving different industries.
- On November 7, 2018, the Teachers’ Retirement Board of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System voted to direct investment staff to remove the Fund’s holdings in the two U.S. publicly-held companies that operate private prisons: CoreCivic and GEO Group. As of November 6, 2018, combined CalSTRS Global Equities and Fixed Income Portfolios’ holdings in CoreCivic and in GEO Group were $12,142,211.
- On July 17, 2018, the Metro Nashville City Council voted to pass a resolution to not invest or contribute to any private company going forward. The resolution specifically named CoreCivic, a publicly-traded company that operates private prisons in Tennessee and profits from the detention of immigrant detainees, but it also applies to other large private prison companies such as G4S and Geo Group.
- On July 13, 2018, New York State announced that it will fully divest from private prisons and private immigrant detention center corporations, becoming the first in the country to eliminate private prison stock holdings in CoreCivic and GEO Group. The campaign was led by Make the Road New York with the support of Enlace.
- On October 26, 2017, the Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement divested $1.2 million from private prison companies, including The GEO Group, Inc.
- In August 2017, Cincinnati City Council proposed divesting $2.5 million from companies involved in private prisons, stating that the city "should not support an 'immoral' system." The companies the city is proposing to divest from include G4S, CoreCivic, and the GEO Group.
- On June 8, 2017, New York City's pension funds divested $48 million from private prison companies, including GEO.
- In March 2017, a class-action lawsuit is filed against GEO for forced labor in its immigration detention center. The class-action lawsuit, originally filed in 2014, marks the first time a class-action suit against a private prison in the United States has moved forward.
- On July 22, 2016, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution to divest from "major human rights violators," including GEO.
- On February 25, 2016, University of California Davis ASUCD passed prison divestment resolution that urges “both the Board of Regents of the University of California (UC Regents) and the ASUCD to undertake practices of corporate social responsibility by divesting in corporations which are directly and indirectly involved in the private prison industry,” including CoreCivic, Inc., Geo Group, and Wells Fargo.
- On February 22, 2016, Portland’s Social Responsible Investments Committee unanimously voted to recommend to the city to divest from Wells Fargo & Company for its ties to private-prison companies, such as Geo Group.
- On February 10, 2016, California State University, Los Angeles administrators have agreed to divest from private prison companies after pressure from CSULA Black Student Union.
- In December 2015, University of California Chief Investment Officer announced that the UC endowment, covering 10 campuses across the state, divested from private prisons, including GEO.
- In December 2015, the California Endowment divested its holdings from "companies that derive significant annual revenue from private prison services," including GEO Group.
- In July 2014, Columbia University divested its shares in GEO Group after a student-led campaign. The decision also prohibits any future investment in the prison industry.
- In April 2014, three investors, Scopia Capital, DSM, and Amica Mutual Insurance pledged to remove their collective investments of about $60 Million from the CoreCivic, Inc. and the GEO Group. DSM President Hugh Welsh explained, “In accordance with the principles of the UN Global Compact, with respect to the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights, the pension fund has divested from the for-profit prison industry.” This marks full divestment for DSM and Amica and a 27% decrease in shares for Scopia, which has decreased its private prison stock by 59% since December 2012.
- In December of 2013, Systematic Financial Management divested 74,550 shares of GEO stock, thereby exiting from the private prison industry completely. Systematic Financial Management is an investment company that manages over $13 billion in investments for local governments, retirement funds, corporations, wealthy individuals, and unions.
- In April 2013, Florida Atlantic University ultimately rejected a 6 million dollar donation from GEO Group in exchange for naming rights on the university's football stadium, after severe pressure from students, faculty, and community activists protesting the company's human rights record and links to the prison industry.
- In 2012, Wells Fargo divested nearly 33 percent of their holdings in GEO Group.
- In 2012, the United Methodist Church voted to permanently divest its shares in GEO Group and simultaneously moved to institute a screen against future investment in any prison-related industry.
- In 2011, Enlace International launched the Prison Industry Divestment Campaign “to address the root causes of harm to communities of color caused by the Criminal and Immigration System” and to call on all public and private institutions to divest from GEO Group.