CoreCivic and GEO Group Tug of War: North Lake Correctional Facility Has a Future (Again)

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In the world of for-profit incarceration, one company’s loss is another company's gain. GEO Group announced on May 2, 2019, their successful contract bid with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to house 5,000 prisoners for the next ten years. CoreCivic, formerly CCA, issued a statement the day before that the Federal Bureau of Prisons ended a contract for housing over 2,200 prisoners. CoreCivic and GEO Group are the two largest for-profit corrections companies in the United States and are in constant competition to pad their bottom lines in an ever-shrinking market. The White House position to treat legal asylum seekers as criminals is just the boost both companies need to keep their shareholders happy.

While 400 employees in Natchez, Mississippi, will soon find themselves at the unemployment office, Baldwin, Michigan, once again will have a line forming through the doors and into the street at the local MichiganWorks! Office as former and new employees reapply for their jobs at North Lake Correctional Facility. It appears GEO Group’s plans to reactivate the prison may be happening very soon.

Since the prison opened in 1998 North Lake Correctional Facility has spent more time shuttered than open. Originally the “punk prison” was a juvenile detention facility until 2005. In 2011 and 2015 GEO Group tried to reopen the prison with inmates from California, Vermont, and Washington State. California decided they would save money keeping their prisoners in California. The Vermont contract for 700 prisoners was never fully utilized by the Vermont Department of Corrections. By the time North Lake canceled the contract in 2017, only 300 prisoners were housed in the 1,800-bed prison. Washington’s contract for 1,000 beds was never fulfilled and the layoffs at the Baldwin prison had already begun by October of 2015.

In 2018 GEO Group announced they would pay for upgrades to the village of Baldwin’s sewer system in anticipation of winning a contract with the Federal Bureau of prisons for possibly as many as 22,000 prisoners. Sewer upgrades are definitely needed to handle the volume of sewage produced by 1,800 prisoners, but GEO Group has other problems if they really intend to hire the staff needed to reactivate North Lake to capacity. In 2015, GEO Group imported a large number of people to the Baldwin area from other states as well as downstate, and the new employees had a difficult time finding housing when they arrived. Some lived in hotels for months until a house or apartment became available. Since these people had to find homes in Big Rapids, Cadillac, and as far away as Ludington, the promise of an influx of new people would boost the local economy never happened. Part of the deal GEO Group made with the state of Michigan in 2015 included hiring as many local qualified people as possible. Perhaps they could stick to this policy a bit more vigorously this time around, as it became apparent to the locals in a matter of weeks that not many people from Lake County were hired as promised.

Governor Whitmer already blocked the sale of a state prison to a for-profit prison management company in February.  It seems pointless to open another one in Michigan when the GEO Group-owned prison already in the state sits empty for years. Currently, 36 jobs are listed for North Lake Correctional Facility on GEO Group’s website. Don’t get too excited, most of the jobs are for positions GEO Group hired internally in 2015 for the Vermont and Washington contracts.

It’s important to remember the constant struggle between CoreCivic and GEO Group will continue as both corporations desperately battle to fill prison beds in a country fed up with putting more people in prison. How long North Lake stays open this time will also depend on who wins the White House in 2020. The current humanitarian crisis at the border created by the oppressive policies from the Trump Administration is a major factor in ensuring Trump is not re-elected. Both CoreCivic and GEO Group will heavily fund politicians to make sure their new cash cow doesn't dry up any time soon.