Opinion: Florida Atlantic University glorifying injustice by celebrating private prisons
OPINION COLUMN BY JAMES GINGERICH —
What do football and incarceration have in common? Besides their distinct placement in the realms of American tradition, they have both been growing in an exponential fashion, allowing a legion of men to rise in their rank of wealth. So, when Florida Atlantic University needed funding for their new stadium, who better to go to than GEO Group, a burgeoning for-profit prison company local to their city of Boca Raton. The controversy that ensued has been a point of disinterest with the school administrators. They had found the funding and that was clearly all that mattered.
What they failed to recognize was a corporation that ran prisons based on a cost-benefit ratio might not be an appropriate sponsor for an institution of higher learning. Economic incentives should not exist within incarceration. Just as prisoners have rights, businesses have motives, and when the free market takes precedence over civil liberties injustice is perpetuated. When the supervision and bureaucratic responsibilities of public prisons are gone, all that remains is a group of inmates reliant on the good nature of the guards. Very often, that is not enough.
“It’s startling to see a stadium will be named after [the GEO Group],” said Bob Libel, the director of Grassroots Leadership. “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium. This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.”
Among these GEO Group facilities is a center in Boca Raton that houses some of America’s most vulnerable and mistreated inmates, those accused of being illegal immigrants. Men and women arrested for not having legal papers stay locked in the transitional center for months on end, awaiting charges. When 26 members of Congress sent a letter seeking an investigation of the facility, no action was taken. The Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi was shut down in 2012 when staff was found to have participated in sexual intercourse with the underage inmates along with other infractions. The examples of gross mistreatment continue to grow, as do questions about the purpose of such facilities.
The laissez-faire ethos tells us that private prisons exist to save money. Proponents argue that incarceration is so expensive it should only exist with competition lest it become too expensive under the wing of bureaucracy. Yet, according to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the purported economic benefits of for-profit prisons “have simply not materialized.” How can GEO Group provide such substandard treatment and still cost the same as better-managed prisons? The answer may lie in the salary of George Zoley, the founder of GEO Group, who brought home $5.7 million in 2011.
Honestly, what more are we to expect? When a company responsible for those whose rights have been stripped away is given the same privacy as any other private business, there is no expectation of fairness or integrity. Government is gifted the right to imprison by the people as there is still some concept that said government is a product of the people. Are we Americans prepared to give that same power to a corporation, especially if that corporation is as corrupt as GEO Group? Florida Atlantic University would have us believe it is commonplace and appropriate. If that is so, be prepared to see greater powers gifted to lesser enterprises someday soon. At least we will still have football.