Friday, April 5, 2013

GEO Group Stadium Naming Deal Fails

FAU Students Protesting GEO Group Naming Deal
When the GEO Group and Florida Atlantic University agreed to a $6 million football stadium naming deal in February 2013, neither GEO CEO George Zoley or FAU President Mary Saunders anticipated the incredible backlash that descended upon the private for-profit prison company (GEO) and the University.  Due to student protests, faculty opposition, national media attention being drawn to GEO's terrible record of human rights violations in its private prisons, and the quickly assigned nickname of "Owlcatraz" to the FAU Owls football stadium, GEO Group announced yesterday that it was withdrawing its pledged stadium naming donation.  In pulling its $6 million pledge, CEO Zoley released a self-serving statement blaming "distractions" as the reason that the pledge was being withdrawn.  Per Zoley:  "What was originally intended as a gesture of GEO's goodwill to financially assist the University's athletic scholarship program has surprisingly evolved into an ongoing distraction to both of our organizations."

The "surprising[] . . . distractions" to which Zoley refers include (a) student protests challenging FAU to reject the donation as hypocritical pointing out that GEO Group's profit base is derived almost entirely from human misery and suffering, (b) an overwhelmingly passed faculty resolution calling upon President Saunders to cancel the deal because GEO Group's "business practices do not align with the mission of the university," (c) a sit-in held in President Saunder's office by students, (d) a mocking national spotlight from Stephen Colbert's comedy/news show (suggesting that one of the problems of drawing attention to your business, is that people will pay attention to what your business actually does), and (e) community outrage protesting GEO's intimate affiliation with an institution of higher education.

As has been discussed in this blog space often, private prison companies are perversely incentivized to generate profit based on human misery through working to increase the incarceration levels of United States citizens and immigrants.  Private prison corporations pay dozens of millions of dollars to lobby legislators for harsher sentencing regimes, new crimes that require incarceration (AZ SB1070), and increasing prevalence of private prison contracts based on dubious claims of efficiency and cost savings.  Without providing any product or needed public good, GEO Group, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and other private prison companies profit in two primary ways that are incredibly objectionable:

First, private prison companies contract with state and federal governments to warehouse U.S. prisoners and are paid in taxpayer funds on a "per bed" basis.  Essentially, taxpayer funds are being transferred from taxpaying citizens into the pockets of private prison company executives and shareholders for no recognizable good or service.  Almost all of the recent emerging evidence suggests that private prison companies run prisons LESS efficiently, LESS safely, and LESS cost effectively than do federal and state governments.  The Lake Erie Prison report just released finds that CCA is so profit driven, that the CCA- run prison at Lake Erie does not provide proper supervision of prisoners and that drug use and violence are rampant, both in an attempt to avoid costly prisoner lawsuits. 

Second, private prison companies exploit the labor of the prisoners in their care by entering into contracts with companies like IBM, Victoria's Secret, WalMart, and McDonald's for prisoners to work for pennies with the contractual rewards paid into the coffers of the private prison company (thus to shareholders and executives).  Prisoners are paid between $0 and $4 for the labor that they engage in sewing for Victoria's Secret, manufacturing for WalMart and McDonalds, with the fruit of their labor being paid to the prison company rather than to the prisoner.  Indentured servitude continues in our prisons in the United States and the GEO Group and CCA profit from these immoral activites.

Rendering of how GEO Group Stadium would have appeared
That both of these profit sources continue in the United States today is shocking.  That the students, faculty, and community at FAU recognized this appalling business model is heartening. The GEO Group's name will NOT adorn the football stadium at FAU.  It appears that "surprising[] . . . distractions" of massive protest are just beginning for the private prison industry.

 cross-posted on the Sports Law Blog

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