Dream DefendersBOCA RATON, Fla. – Tuesday, May 5, over 200 people protested at GEO Group headquarters in Boca Raton, Florida. International partner Enlace, Power U, the Dream Defenders, FAU Students, Advancement Project, Florida New Majority, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Grassroots Leadership, and Responsible Endowments Coalition joined directly impacted families, children, and youth to speak out against GEO Group, the nation’s second largest private prison operator, to condemn their “active lobbying to criminalize and imprison immigrants and people of color. ”
Florida has the third largest state prison population, at 101,000 people — a number which has increased by 400% over the past 30 years. GEO Group controls approximately 85,500 prison, reentry, and immigrant detention beds around the world — including 6 facilities with 8,452 beds in Florida alone. In 2014, GEO reported more than $1.6 billion in annual revenues. GEO donated over $1.3 million in direct campaign contributions last year alone to Governor Rick Scott’s reelection campaign. Scott has since aggressively steered state prison contracts into private prison hands.
Tuesday’s protest is part of a historic gathering of grassroots Black, Brown, Asian, and immigrant organizations battling criminalization and incarceration.
The directly impacted families, children, and youth shared their stories and spoke out against GEO Group.
Holding colorful creative banners and signs, protestors chanted “Profit for pain is inhumane,” and, “Brick by brick, wall by wall, tear down the prisons, and free them all” and other messages aimed at exposing the GEO Group.
For the past few years, protesters have demonstrated in Boca for GEO Group’s shareholders meeting, but this effort comes at a time when the company is making record profits among heavy criticism for its treatment of prisoners, which include a large number of immigrants awaiting deportation proceedings. That has led the theme of this year’s protest, which has had a strong social-media contingent, including videos and tweets, with critical factoids about the world’s second-largest private prison corporation, under the “#slaveholders” hashtag.The protest included a theatrical version of “GEO-poly,” a theatrical version of Monopoly that the protesters based on the realities of the private prison business. The “players” represented major GEO Group shareholders, including big banks, such as Wells Fargo, and George Zoley, GEO’s CEO. After rolling the dice, prisoners were accumulated by the shareholders and put in chains.
“The game was based on all the things that GEO and other private prisons do, but it was just being done in a theatrical version for people to see how this really happens,” says Arely Lozano-Baugh, a member of Dream Defenders and a student at FAU. “ It was hard because some of my friends were in chains and that’s hard to see. But at the end of the day, people with black or brown bodies could be in that situation, especially when there’s so much money to be made off of them.”