Private prisons operator GEO Group with record of human rights abuses cancels deal which led to student protests against prisons-for-profit

CONTACT:          ACLU of Florida Media Office, (786) 363-2737

BOCA RATON - Last night, following a campaign of protests and public awareness efforts by student activists working in conjunction with human rights and civil liberties organizations, the private prison operator GEO Group cancelled a proposed deal with Florida Atlantic University (FAU) to name the school’s new football stadium after the for-profit prison company for $6 million.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida and the ACLU National Prison Project ad joined with FAU Students in opposing the deal. The ACLU had previously been involved in a lawsuit against the GEO-owned Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, in which the judge described the GEO prison as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions" and "a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”

“Credit goes to the students of FAU,” stated ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon. “Their aggressive use of their First Amendment rights helped save the reputation of their University.  Although this decision may appear to have come suddenly, it was the result of a tireless campaign to make the record of GEO Group – and indeed the whole private prison industry – known to the entire FAU community and the state of Florida. Because of the efforts of the students, GEO Group’s plan to sanitize its public image backfired, and more people than ever know about the problems inherent in private prisons. The students may have also helped turn the corner on the race by state governments to privatize their prisons.”

ACLU of Florida staff spoke out at the student-led “Stop Owlcatraz” rally shortly after the deal was announced. ACLU National Prisons Project and ACLU of Florida also sent a letter to FAU president Mary Jane Saunders about GEO Group’s record of human rights abuses, submitted a public records request seeking information about the deal, and were part of a coalition of over 60 groups calling on the FAU president and trustees to stop the agreement.

"This turn of events shows the power of a committed group of students to bring out the truth about a powerful corporation by exercising their First Amendment rights,” stated ACLU of Florida Staff Attorney Julie Ebenstein. “GEO Group is a company in the business of misery, with an atrocious human rights record that has made it the subject of federal investigations and an ACLU lawsuit. It’s no wonder that FAU students had no interest in having their college experience used as a prop in a PR campaign to whitewash that record. In the marketplace of ideas, victory does not go to the highest bidder. This decision is a victory not only for the students of FAU, but for all Floridians against a campaign to desensitize us to a prisons-for-profit scheme that encourages our state’s overreliance on incarceration."

“This is a milestone in the growing movement against for-profit prisons and mass incarceration,” said Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “When people force the private prison industry to defend its record, companies like GEO can no longer win with lobbyists, money, and lies. The students and faculty at the university can now breathe a little easier knowing they won’t have to watch football at ‘Owlcatraz’ next season.”

The ACLU opposes prisons for profit, which reap lucrative rewards from mass incarceration. In some cases, states agree to guarantee minimum occupancy levels that benefit the private prisons but make it harder to change criminal justice policies. Prison profiteering enables and depends upon America's over-incarceration epidemic. The United States is the world's largest jailer; with just 5 percent of the global population, the U.S. houses 25 percent of the world's prisoners.

More information on the ACLU’s opposition to the stadium-naming deal is available here:

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