As a private prison corporation with a history of alleged abuses and violations continues to lobby for more privatization of incarceration in Florida, it has found a new way to brand itself. In exchange for a $6 million gift, Florida Atlantic University will rename its football stadium GEO Group Stadium, after the second-largest U.S. corporation that runs criminal detention facilities. The New York Times reports:
For this partnership, there is no obvious precedent.
The university’s president described the deal as “wonderful” and the company as “well run” and by a notable alumnus. But it also left some unsettled, including those who study the business of sports and track the privatization of the prison industry. To those critics, this was a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash. […]
“It’s startling to see a stadium will be named after them,” said [Bob Libal, the executive director of Grassroots Leadership]. “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium. This is a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.”
The $6 million gift paid out over 12 years is the largest one-time gift in the history of FAU athletics, signaling both the monetary influence of the private prison industry, and its willingness to wield that influence to secure a better reputation. Just this past week, a Florida bill proposing the largest private prison expansion in history died in the state Senate, in spite of $1.3 million in campaign contributions by GEO Group to Florida legislators since 2006. And a move to privatize prison health care has been twice declared unconstitutional by a Florida court. But it’s not just prison privatization that companies like GEO Group lobby for. Several studies have shown that private prison companies have a direct incentive to lobby for more incarceration, even as the U.S. maintains its title as the world’s number one jailer.
GEO Group and its subsidiary GEO Care have faced fines for “serious shortcomings in patient care” at its mental health facilities and has been the subject of numerous reports of juvenile abuse, deaths, and riots. A federal judge even found that the group had “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate, the sum of which places the offenders at substantial ongoing risk” at a juvenile detention facility. A high-level GEO executive testified under oath in a lawsuit alleging witness tampering and intimidation that lying to a federal agency such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be just fine.
The deal also raises questions about the limits of college sports sponsorships. Sports administration professor David Ridpath questions whether educational institutions are “prostituting ourselves to the highest bidder regardless of what they represent.”