Lawsuit Claims Private Prison Company Forced Detainees to Work for Pennies Per Hour
CoreCivic, the country’s largest private prison company, has been accused of violating a federal anti-human trafficking law in a civil lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The lawsuit was filed for the Middle District of Georgia on behalf of three immigrant detainees — Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez Galicia, and Shoahib Ahmed. The three claimed that the detention center forced them to work for $1 to $4 a day for chores like, mopping the floors, cleaning toilets and serving meals, and were told to use their wages to buy toilet paper and other hygiene products. They also had to use the money they earned to purchase phone card to call their family.
Immigrants who refused to participate in the work program can face criminal charges or up to 30 days in solitary confinement.
“When I arrived at Stewart I was faced with an impossible choice — either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant, and food,” Barrientos said in a statement. “If I didn’t work, I would never be able to call my family.”
The lawsuit also claimed that the dormitories have poor living conditions.
“The lights in these dorms are on all day and night, requiring some detained immigrants to fold socks over their eyes in order to sleep. There is one bathroom in these dorms with three to four toilets, three to four urinals, and four sinks. This shared bathroom is often filthy, to the extent that the pod residents at times have to plug or cover their noses to avoid the overwhelming and festering stench. The showers in the open dormitories do not have temperature control and provide only extremely hot water. The open dormitories are also the site of frequent conflict and even violence,” the lawsuit said.
Barrientos said he was put in medical segregation for a couple of months for filing grievance against a guard who made him work while he was sick. Ahmed said that he was punished with isolation for 10 days for threatening a work action.
The plaintiffs demand that the prison ends its forced labor regime, in addition to compensation.
CoreCivic spokesman Jonathan Burns said that it’s the company policy to not comment on pending lawsuits, but mentioned that “all work programs at our ICE detention facilities are completely voluntary and operated in full compliance with ICE standards, including federally mandated statutory reimbursement rates for Voluntary Work Program participants.”