Tag Archives: Colorado

GEO Group sues Washington to keep privately run immigration detention center open

Source: Beryl Lipton, MuckRock, March 23, 2018

Yesterday, the GEO Group, one of the world’s largest for-profit prison companies, decided to push back against attempts in the the American Northwest to limit their immigrant detention operations, filing suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington against the City of Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma is home to the only detention facility in the state dedicated exclusively to holding violators of immigration and entry laws, the Northwest Detention Center. Washington is just one of the West Coast states actively challenging the immigration policies of the current Presidential administration. …

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Private Prison May Have to Boost Detainees’ Wages
Source: June Williams, Courthouse News, December 7, 2017

Washington State can pursue claims that the private prison company GEO Group failed to pay federal immigration detainees the state’s minimum wage, a federal judge ruled Wednesday. GEO could not prove that the state’s minimum wage law as applied to detainee wages is preempted by federal law, and the state has a valid interest in pursuing the case, U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan ruled. Washington sued GEO in September for violating the state’s minimum wage laws. GEO Group is one of the country’s largest operators of private prisons. …

Detention center contractor asks judge to toss lawsuit over $1-a-day pay
Source: Gene Johnson, Associated Press, November 20, 2017
 
A federal judge is considering whether to throw out two lawsuits, including one by the state of Washington, that seek to force one of the nation’s largest privately run immigration detention centers to pay minimum wage for work done by detainees. The GEO Group, the for-profit company that runs the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, is asking U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan to dismiss the cases, saying Washington doesn’t have authority to bring the lawsuit and that the state’s minimum wage law is overridden by Congress’ decision to set rates for work performed by detainees. …

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Republican congressmen defend $1 a day wage for immigrant detainees who work in private prisons

Source: Tracy Jan, Washington Post, March 16, 2018
 
A group of 18 Republican congressmen is urging the Trump administration to defend private prisons against lawsuits alleging immigrant detainees are forced to work for a wage of $1 a day.  The members say that Congress in 1978 had explicitly set the daily reimbursement rate for voluntary work by detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, and that the same rate should apply in government-contracted private prisons. … In the March 7 letter, first reported by the Daily Beast, the congressmen argue that the detainees are not employees of private prisons, so they should not be able to file lawsuits seeking to be paid for their work. … At least five lawsuits have been filed against private prisons, including GEO and CoreCivic, over detainee pay and other issues. The lawsuits allege that the private prison giants use voluntary work programs to violate state minimum wage laws, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, unjust enrichment and other labor statutes. The state of Washington sued GEO last year for violating its minimum wage of $11 an hour and sought to force the company to give up profits made through detainee labor. … Inmates in Colorado and California have also sued the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, alleging that they were forced to work for $1 per day to pay for necessities like food, water and hygiene products. …

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Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor
Source: Ian Urbina, New York Times, May 24, 2014

… As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities. … The federal authorities say the program is voluntary, legal and a cost-saver for taxpayers. But immigrant advocates question whether it is truly voluntary or lawful, and argue that the government and the private prison companies that run many of the detention centers are bending the rules to convert a captive population into a self-contained labor force. … Officials at private prison companies declined to speak about their use of immigrant detainees, except to say that it was legal. Federal officials said the work helped with morale and discipline and cut expenses in a detention system that costs more than $2 billion a year. … The compensation rules at detention facilities are remnants of a bygone era. A 1950 law created the federal Voluntary Work Program and set the pay rate at a time when $1 went much further. (The equivalent would be about $9.80 today.) Congress last reviewed the rate in 1979 and opted not to raise it. It was later challenged in a lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets workplace rules, but in 1990 an appellate court upheld the rate, saying that “alien detainees are not government ‘employees.’ ”…

Cities experiment to reduce homelessness with “pay for success” finance

Source: Carey L. Biron, Reuters, February 1, 2018
 
Although he had tried to find a home during that time, he was discouraged by the paperwork and process. But shortly after Easter last year, a social worker contacted him and said he had been selected to participate in a new housing program.  “Within two weeks, I had a place to stay,” Cushinberry told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Denver. “They gave me housing first, and then we tried to work out all the other kinks in my life.”  The program is one of a rising number of initiatives around the world bringing together government departments, service providers, foundations, banks, pension funds and more to address complex social problems.  The key innovation is how they these programs are financed.  Rather than rely on handouts by cash-strapped governments, private investors step in to provide money through a financing tool known as a social impact bond. …

Are Private Prisons Using Forced Labor?

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg Business Week, November 8, 2017 

On Nov. 15 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver will hear arguments in a case that could change the future of the $5 billion private prison industry. Judges will decide whether a district court was correct in February when it certified a class action on behalf of around 60,000 current and former detainees who are suing Geo Group Inc., one of the largest U.S. private prison companies, for allegedly violating federal anti-trafficking laws by coercing them to work for free under threat of solitary confinement. The case was first filed in 2014 by a group of immigrants who had been detained at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility run by Geo in Aurora, Colo. Their key claim rests on the assertion that Geo violated the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, a law designed to stop human trafficking—a scourge many associate with sexual exploitation by gangs, not with government contractors’ treatment of detained immigrants. Their lawsuit argues that Geo violated the law’s prohibition on using threats to obtain labor. …

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How a Private Prison Company Used Detained Immigrants for Free Labor
Source: Madison Pauly, Mother Jones, April 3, 2017

… The GEO Group, the private prison company that operates Aurora, allegedly forced more than 50,000 immigrants like Ortiz to work without pay or for $1 a day since 2004, according to a lawsuit that nine detainees brought against the company in 2014. On February 27, a federal judge ruled that their case could proceed as a class action, breathing new life into a suit that exposes the extent to which the for-profit company relied on cheap or unpaid detainee labor to minimize costs at the Aurora facility. … GEO incarcerates more immigrants (and receives more public money to do so) than any other detention center operator, according to an analysis by the anti-detention group CIVIC. And its business detaining immigrants for ICE is only expected to grow “with this increased and expanded approach to border security,” CEO George Zoley said in a February earnings call. …

Thousands of ICE detainees claim they were forced into labor, a violation of anti-slavery laws
Source: Kristine Phillips, Washington Post, March 5, 2017

Tens of thousands of immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were forced to work for $1 day, or for nothing at all — a violation of federal anti-slavery laws — a lawsuit claims.  The lawsuit, filed in 2014 against one of the largest private prison companies in the country, reached class-action status this week after a federal judge’s ruling. That means the case could involve as many as 60,000 immigrants who have been detained.  It’s the first time a class-action lawsuit accusing a private U.S. prison company of forced labor has been allowed to move forward. … At the heart of the dispute is the Denver Contract Detention Facility, a 1,500-bed center in Aurora, Colo., owned and operated by GEO Group under a contract with ICE. The Florida-based corporation runs facilities to house immigrants who are awaiting their turn in court. … The lawsuit, filed against GEO Group on behalf of nine immigrants, initially sought more than $5 million in damages. Attorneys expect the damages to grow substantially given the case’s new class-action status. … The original nine plaintiffs claim that detainees at the ICE facility are forced to work without pay — and that those who refuse to do so are threatened with solitary confinement. Specifically, the lawsuit claims, six detainees are selected at random every day and are forced to clean the facility’s housing units. The lawsuit claims that the practice violates the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which prohibits modern-day slavery. … GEO Group also is accused of violating Colorado’s minimum wage laws by paying detainees $1 day instead of the state’s minimum wage of about $9 an hour. The company “unjustly enriched” itself through the cheap labor of detainees, the lawsuit says.

… The class-action ruling by Kane, a senior judge in the U.S. District Court in Colorado, came at a critical time, DiSalvo said, noting President Trump’s pledge to deport 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants. Advocates say private prison companies that have government contracts stand to benefit significantly from the president’s hard-line policy of detaining and deporting a massive number of immigrants. … Notably, the stocks of the two biggest private prison operators, Geo Group and CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America), have surged since Trump’s election. The companies donated a total of $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural festivities, USA Today reported. Since Trump took office, his administration has reversed the Obama administration’s policy to end the country’s reliance on private prisons. … Under ICE’s Voluntary Work Program, detainees sign up to work and are paid $1 a day. … Jacqueline Stevens, who runs Northwestern University’s Deportation Research Clinic, said the program does not meet the criteria for what qualifies as volunteer work under labor laws. … Prison labor, Stevens added, has two purposes: to punish prisoners after they’ve been convicted of a crime and to rehabilitate them. Those don’t apply to immigrant detainees, she said. … In 2015, Kane, the federal judge, partially denied the motion to dismiss. Although he agreed with GEO Group that Colorado’s minimum wage law is inapplicable, he ruled that the other claims can stand. … Kane granted class-action status a few days after the Justice Department directed the Bureau of Prisons to, again, use private prisons, a significant shift from the Obama-era policy of significantly reducing — and ultimately ending — their use. …

How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time

Source: Kimberly Hefling, Politico, October 30, 2017

With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.  One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. … The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico. But it’s also created bitter divisions in the Latino community and led to accusations the Kochs are trying to undermine public education — and even in some cases, to subvert the Democratic process.

… Despite such criticism, the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice. Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:

  • A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. …
  • A lawsuit brought by Americans for Prosperity, among others, aimed at stopping a 2018 Arizona referendum asking voters whether they want to keep a school choice law passed earlier this year. …
  • A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
  • A seven-figure investment In Virginia’s gubernatorial race by Americans for Prosperity that includes a video criticizing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, for his opposition to education savings accounts.
  • Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.” …

ICE transfers immigrants held in detention around the country to keep beds filled. Then it releases them, with no help getting home.

Source: Libby Rainey, Denver Post, September 17, 2017

… Cruz is one of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers who are picked up in one part of the country and transferred to other parts of the far-flung network of more than 200 detention centers every year. The transfers often result in people being released on the streets of unfamiliar communities far from family, support and legal representation. … Each month, ICE shuffles thousands of detainees throughout the web of privately contracted centers, county jails and other facilities to keep beds filled. ICE has no obligation to return detainees to the areas where they were picked up. These transfers prioritize finances over the well-being of people being moved, immigrants rights advocates say. … Transfers allow ICE to keep beds filled in detention centers around the country and consolidate detainees near immigration courts with faster dockets and transportation, he said. A congressional mandate requires ICE to maintain at least 34,000 detention beds a day. … Detainees are regularly released without much notice, advocates say. Detention facilities typically have phones that those inside can use, but once detainees are released, ICE doesn’t help them transition into the outside world. “There’s a lot of shuffling of people that takes place to fill beds,” said Megan Hope, a social worker with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. “It’s very burdensome for somebody to get out in a community they’re not from.” …

Congress must continue to block Trump plan to sell BPA

Source: Union-Bulletin Editorial Board, August 8, 2017

Late last month the U.S. House Budget Committee approved a budget resolution that rejects privatizing the transmission assets of the Bonneville Power Administration proposed by the Trump administration. A great move. The sooner this lousy proposal is dead the better it will be for Pacific Northwest residents who pay power bills — pretty much all of us. … President Donald Trump is calling for turning over the transmission network of power lines and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of hydropower from the Columbia and Snake rivers’ dams, to private companies. As Trump sees it, this would lower costs to taxpayers and improve efficiency. But in reality it would result in far higher rates for consumers. And putting the high-voltage grid in the hands of private investors — perhaps foreign investors — would create national security concerns. …

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Down the Mighty Columbia River, Where a Power Struggle Looms
Source: Kirk Johnson, New York Times, July 28, 2017

To ride down the Columbia River as the John Day Dam’s wall of concrete slowly fills the view from a tugboat is to see what the country’s largest network of energy-producing dams created through five decades of 20th-century ambition, investment and hubris. … Now, the Trump administration has proposed rethinking the entire system, with a plan to sell the transmission network of wires and substations owned by the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that distributes most of the Columbia basin’s output, to private buyers. The idea is part of a package of proposals that would transform much of the infrastructure in the United States to a mixture of public and private partnerships, lowering costs to taxpayers and improving efficiency, administration officials said. Assets of two other big public power operators, based in Colorado and Oklahoma, would be sold, too, if Congress approves the measure.

Debates about government and its role in land and environmental policy are always highly charged. But perhaps nowhere could the proposed changes have a more significant impact than along the great river of the West — fourth largest by volume in North America, more than 10 times that of the Hudson. Privatization would transform a government service that requires equal standards across a vast territory — from large cities to tiny hamlets — into a private operation seeking maximum returns to investors. …

Denver’s 34-year deal at DIA might be the city’s first big public-private partnership, but don’t expect it to be the last

Source: Jon Murray, Denver Post, August 13, 2017
 
Denver International Airport’s proposed $1.8 billion terminal deal is poised to launch the city into a different kind of contracting that hands over some control of a publicly owned space to private interests for decades.  Get ready: That complex, 34-year contract could be a harbinger of things to come. Mayor Michael Hancock and other city leaders see promise in public-private partnerships, which infuse both private money and management into public projects, as they prepare to build out the National Western Center with large new event venues, expand the convention center and plot big changes to the Denver Performing Arts Complex. …

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Denver wants to create an office for public-private partnerships, and City Council fears being cut out of the process
Source: Erica Meltzer, Denverite, July 28, 2017
 
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock wants to create an office within city government that will screen, vet and shepherd public-private partnerships related to major city projects, like the redevelopment of the National Western Center and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts — and other projects the city might not even have anticipated yet.  Under the proposal, City Council would get to set the broad parameters of deals, but contracts would be finalized at the administrative level.  The effort is causing major concerns among some City Council members about what authority they’ll give up if the idea goes forward. That concern is only exacerbated as they debate the contract for the Great Hall renovations at Denver International Airport, a public-private partnership that will see Ferrovial and its development partners get paid as much as $1.8 billion over a 34-year period for a $650 million to $770 million project. …

15 Lawmakers Plotting to Privatize America’s Public Lands

Source: EcoWatch, March 17, 2017

…Despite the irreplaceable value these places hold, in recent years, a concerted effort has been driven forward by certain senators and U.S. representatives to seize, dismantle, destroy and privatize our public lands. These lawmakers are backed by fossil fuel corporations and other extractive industries that already squeeze massive profits out of America’s public lands and only want more. In order to realize this goal, every year these corporations push millions of dollars toward federal lawmakers to motivate them to introduce and pass legislation that would have the effect of either fully privatizing public lands or opening them up to unfettered extraction and development. The Center for Biological Diversity issued a report that analyzed 132 bills that were introduced in the past three congressional sessions, between 2011 and 2016, and identified the lawmakers who authored and cosponsored the greatest number of these bills. The list of “Public Lands Enemies” that emerged includes nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives and six U.S. senators from eight western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

These 15 Public Lands Enemies are:
1. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)
2. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah, 1st District)
3. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
4. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz., 4th District)
5. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
6. Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah, 2nd District)
7. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska, At Large)
8. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)
9. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho, 1st District)
10. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah, 3rd District)
11. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev., 2nd District)
12. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)
13. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M., 2nd District)
14. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif., 4th District)
15. Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

Read full report.

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How Politicians Are Using Taxpayer Money To Fund Their Campaign To Sell Off America’s Public Lands
Source: Matt Lee-Ashley, ThinkProgress, June 18, 2014

…According to a ThinkProgress analysis, the American Lands Council (ALC) — an organization created to help states to claim ownership of federal lands — has collected contributions of taxpayer money from government officials in 18 counties in Utah, 10 counties in Nevada, four counties in Washington, three counties in Arizona, two counties in Oregon, two counties in New Mexico, and one county in Colorado, Idaho, and Wyoming. In total, county-level elected officials have already paid the ALC more than $200,000 in taxpayer money. A list of these counties and their “membership levels” can be seen on the ALC website. Since its inception in 2012, the ALC has been working with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative front group backed by the oil and gas industry and billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, to pass state-level legislation demanding that the federal government turn over federally owned national forests and public lands to Western states. So far, Utah is the only state to have signed a law calling for the seizure of federal lands, but Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana have passed bills to study the idea and further action is expected in statehouses during 2015 legislative sessions….

How the Uber effect will reinvent public transit

Source: Rahul Kumar, American City & County, February 15, 2017

A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) came to the headline-grabbing conclusion that up to 95 percent of New York City taxi rides could be met through only 2,000 on-demand 10-person shuttles. The study demonstrates what companies like Uber and Lyft are striving toward, but also what many public transit agencies are struggling to address: that future transportation systems will seamlessly and dynamically match riders with the best transit modes and routes. … Existing fixed route-based transit systems are just that: fixed. There are plenty of advantages to these systems, not the least of which is operational simplicity. But our nation’s backbone of transit agencies – often overburdened and underfunded – should be asking themselves “what service options do riders want?” as opposed to “what service options are the easiest for us to deliver?” The answer is personal public transit. This concept of on-demand mobility isn’t all that new, however. … Another issue is the cost and operation of paratransit. … Transit agencies from Boston to Washington have recently started to look to partners like Uber and Lyft to help provide a ride-hailing option to relieve fiscal and infrastructure pressures. A 2016 Brookings report estimates transit agencies could save $1.1 billion to $2.2 billion per year using ride-hailing companies for paratransit, based on an average $13 to $18 per ride. However, the secret here is that versus transit these savings do not scale up very well; ride-hailing services are really not designed to handle simultaneous, multiple trips efficiently, therefore even a bus with six passengers on it has less of a cost impact than six separately ordered Uber vehicles. … Forward-thinking city planners in Gainesville, Fla., and Helsinki are reevaluating the traditional transit equation and instead choosing to co-opt ridesharing and even autonomous vehicle technology to fill current service gaps in less densely populated areas. … Solving the inefficiency riddle will ultimately require transit agencies, technology companies and other innovators to seamlessly work together to maximize social benefits because public transit benefits every American—even if you don’t ride.

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Cities release invoices showing Uber bills
Source: Ryan Gillespie, Orlando Sentinel, January 25, 2017

Five Central Florida cities that cut deals with Uber hoping to boost SunRail ridership have released records revealing how much money they will pay the ride-sharing service, which the company had hoped to keep a “trade secret.” Cities began receiving invoices this week that tabulated costs through Jan. 17, which just surpasses the halfway point of the yearlong program. To that date, the highest total came from Altamonte Springs, which has paid for $14,863.59 in Uber rides. Sanford received a bill showing it owed $7,869.99. Additionally, Lake Mary owes $723.38 and Longwood owes $681.17, and Maitland owes $324.65 records show. In July, the cities began the one-year pilot with Uber to cover 25 percent of Uber fares on rides that start or finish at a SunRail station, and also start or finish within a city’s limits. Cities also cover 20 percent of rides on trips that start and finish within the borders of participating cities. …

Can public transit and ride-share companies get along?
Source: Kyle Shelton, The Conversation, September 22, 2016

In Centennial, Colorado and Altamonte Springs, Florida, residents and visitors can now get a free ride to the nearest train station. The ride is paid for by the local public transit agency, but it’s not a public bus that makes the trip. Rather, it’s a car driven by someone working for ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber. There are potential public benefits – the hope of increased ridership, better service for hard-to-serve areas and cost and equipment efficiencies. Competition could push sometimes slow-moving transit agencies to innovate and improve. There are also risks. Ride-sharing companies have devastated the private taxi market, effectively undercutting the entire industry in some cities. Mobility rights advocates and transit employees fear the same thing could happen to public transit, remaking, under private ownership, the way millions of Americans get around every day. … A likely outcome of ride-share and authority interaction is more of what is already taking shape in Colorado, Florida and many other locales – small-scale, replicable cooperation. Centennial and Altamonte Springs are attempting to address what is know in the transportation sector as the “first mile/last mile” problem. The idea is that many potential transit riders don’t use the service because it’s too far from either the beginning or end of a given trip. Offering ride-sharing as a way to connect from the doorway to the transit stop may help overcome this issue. … The biggest question about these new relationships is how well they meet riders’ needs over time. Disability rights advocates have already warned that substituting ride-share services for existing agency-run paratransit programs – on-demand rides for users with disabilities – may be a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Public agencies and most private transportation companies are bound to provide these services to all users, but it’s not yet clear whether newer ride-sharing companies must also – or how contracting with a government agency might require it. …
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