In a first-of-its-kind agreement, one of the world’s largest private prison firms has reached a settlement with the federal government to reduce violent workplace conditions at all of its facilities across the country.
GEO Group, which has been become known for inmate abuse, violations, and disregard for the truth, agreed to be subject to Occupational Safety and Health Administration monitoring after the federal workplace safety agency sued the firm for “serious violations.” In 2012, OSHA initially proposed lobbing GEO with more than $100,000 in fines for violations in Meridian, Miss. Among the allegations was its willful failure to provide adequate security staff in prisons and to equip staff with essential safety equipment that would protect staff from “stabbings, bites, and other injuries.” Violations included failures as basic as failure to fix malfunctioning locks on cell doors. In one instance, there were only three guards at a prison.
GEO has faced allegations of intentionally under-staffing its prisons in a number of its facilities. In early February, the firm agreed to pay Idaho $1 million to settle a claim of chronic false staffing records.
The recent settlement with the U.S. Department of Labor is much broader in scope — taking on GEO misconduct corporation-wide, and OSHA acting regional administrator Teresa A. Harrison called it “the first of its kind in the corrections industry that addresses the hazards associated with workplace violence.”
OSHA specifically oversees worker safety, so its claims only concern the welfare of the guards. But inmates’ safety has also been compromised by under-staffing and other alleged misconduct. At one Mississippi juvenile facility, a federal judge found the firm had “allowed a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions to germinate.” Idaho is one of several states that have terminated their contracts with GEO after a spate of allegations. But heavy lobbying by the industry has accompanied their growing presence in other states, and in the federal immigration detention system.
As part of the agreement, GEO will only pay OSHA $13,600 in fines — small change for the billion-dollar firm whose top executives rake in millions of dollars in compensation each year. But it will also be required to conduct regular workplace violence audits at each of its 42 U.S. facilities, allow regular OSHA inspections, and develop a workplace violence program that includes training and the hiring of new workplace violence oversight staff.
The settlement was approved earlier in February and will go into effect 30 days after its approval.