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Court rejects GEO Group’s effort to reduce settlement won by immigrants forced to work for $1 a day

In October, the court had awarded more than $17 million to immigrants after it determined that GEO Group had violated Washington State’s minimum wage laws in paying immigrants jailed at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) $1 a day for their forced labor. The court said GEO Group also had to fork over another $6 million to the state for “unjust enrichment.”

“This is a landmark victory for workers’ rights and basic human dignity,” state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said following the decisions.

GEO Group appealed the decisions, of course. But in a testament to the amoral nature of private prison companies, GEO Group also shut down the work program at NWIPC. The company had been under court order to pay detained immigrants the state’s minimum wage (or higher) for their labor. But rather than pay them, the multibillion dollar company instead suspended workers while it appealed. As we noted before, that was a choice. The private prison profiteer had told the court it “has enough money on hand ‘to pay the Judgments twenty times over,’ but said it disagreed with the decisions,” the Associated Press reported last month.

The report noted that “not being able to work makes it harder for detainees to buy extra food at the center’s commissary, supplementing what they consider to be inadequate meals provided by GEO.” While the court this week refused to lower the settlement amount, it “granted GEO Group’s motion to stay enforcement of the judgment pending an appeal,” Reuters continued.

GEO Group is facing a number of other similar challenges in other states—and Washington’s decision could have serious implications there.

In Colorado, lawyers representing up to 40,000 immigrants in a similar class action lawsuit against GEO Group have submitted paperwork to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado detailing how Judge Bryan ruled in the Washington case,” Newsweek reported last month. In California, immigrants have similarly sued, the report continued. One man was detained at another GEO Group facility, Adelanto Detention Center. A second man was detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center, operated by CoreCivic. Combined, these could mean even more significant financial losses for private prison companies.

Lawmakers and advocates have in recent weeks also called on the Biden administration to shut down both California sites, noting “these facilities have been operating in a substandard manner, resulting in repeated violations of the ICE standards and the excessive waste of federal funds.”

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