GEO Group Whistleblower Exposes First Amendment Violations, Lack of Officer Training, and Poor Conditions at the Adelanto Detention Center

A former employee of GEO Group - a corporation that operates the Adelanto Detention Center - claims First Amendment violations, lack of proper training for GEO Group staff, extreme work hours, employee intimidation, and overuse of solitary confinement.
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Co-authored by Christina Fialho and Vickie Mena

A former employee of GEO Group - a corporation that operates the Adelanto Detention Center - claims First Amendment violations, lack of proper training for GEO Group staff, extreme work hours, employee intimidation, and overuse of solitary confinement.

The former employee, who asked to remain anonymous, recounted in a recording on file with CIVIC that two Muslim men were put into solitary confinement for quietly saying their daily prayers. He attributed these First Amendment violations to a complete lack of officer training.

"They are not trained for shit," he said. "I had to learn everything on my own. They put me in a dorm and then they said, 'Alright. Good luck. See you later.'"

He cited overcrowded conditions and a work culture that required guards to do back-to-back 12- and 16-hour shifts, or risk being fired. Despite the lack of training and the extreme over-time hours, he claims that he was responsible for supervising over 100 detainees on his own. According to him, he was warned, "If you can't handle it, you will lose your job."

He stated that GEO Group is paid a certain amount of money from the federal government, but then GEO Group is given unbridled discretion to "do whatever the hell they want." In his view, this is not fair to the guards or the detainees.

The Adelanto Detention Center, in San Bernardino, California, is owned and operated by GEO Group, which contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to imprison 1,300 men on any given day. ICE pays GEO Group up to $111 per person imprisoned at Adelanto each day. GEO Group is one of the largest private prison corporations in the United States. According to a compilation of federal figures by CIVIC, GEO Group receives more taxpayer dollars than any other ICE contractor. GEO Group's revenues climbed from $1.52 billion in 2013 to $1.69 billion in 2014.

Last year, GEO Group began operating family immigration detention facilities that house juveniles. Yet, they acknowledge in their most recent annual report that they are unsure whether they can "minimize the risks and difficulties" involved in operating juvenile correctional facilities while still "yielding an attractive profit margin."

GEO Group has been the subject of hundreds of lawsuits, ranging from sexual battery to medical neglect to wrongful death. In 2011, a U.S. citizen died at a GEO-run immigration detention facility in England. A jury found that his death was in part due to medical neglect at the Harmondsworth Removal Centre. A report on Harmondsworth by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons in January 2014 found "shocking cases where a sense of humanity was lost." These cases included long periods of solitary confinement - particularly for Muslims - and medical mismanagement. The U.K.'s Home Office ended its contract with GEO Group that September. Back in the United States, another GEO Group whistleblower won a wrongful termination lawsuit, after he divulged illegal activities at a California facility, including sexual and physical assault, fraud, and mishandled incident reports.

Numerous questions about oversight and accountability have been left unanswered by GEO Group. A government report found that GEO Group's medical mismanagement at Adelanto directly led to the death of at least one detainee, Fernando Dominguez, in March 2012. There also are significant questions regarding GEO Group's responsibility in last month's death of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, also at Adelanto.

Last week, the ACLU of Southern California, CIVIC, and eight other legal service providers and human rights organizations formally voiced concerns about the poor quality of health care offered at Adelanto. Our letter, sent directly to ICE Director Sarah Saldaña and other government officials, describes abhorrent accounts of medical negligence and reveals that financial costs form a basis for medical decisions. For example, GEO Group denied a man treatment for his severe hip infection because "it was too expensive." The infection ultimately developed into a life-threatening condition that required a 6-week hospitalization at an outside hospital not affiliated with GEO Group.

Despite GEO Group's embattled reputation, ICE has announced plans to expand the available bed space at Adelanto by 640 beds, and for the first time may house women and LGBTQ individuals at the facility. According to their annual report, GEO Group expects to generate $21 million in additional annualized revenue from this expansion.

Learn more here and join advocates, faith leaders, people formerly detained at Adelanto, and family members of people currently detained on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, (starting at 11 a.m.) for a vigil and press conference outside of the Adelanto Detention Center (10400 Rancho Rd, Adelanto, CA).

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