(Photo: Steve Mitchell, USA TODAY Sports)
If you build it, a private correctional facilities company with a spotty track record of violations and investigations will come.
In 2011, Florida Atlantic completed construction on a $70 million on-campus stadium, one that it had been pushing to fund and build since christening a football program in 2001. One way to offset the costs needed to construct and maintain a stadium is to offer up naming rights, such as similar non-automatic-qualifying schools like North Texas (Apogee) and UCF (Bright House Networks) have done over the last half-decade.
On Tuesday, FAU announced it had found a partner. And who would that be, perchance? The Owls will be playing football in Geo Group Stadium, named after the nation's second-largest for-profit prison operator. Luckily, Geo Group's founder and CEO, George Zoley, is a two-time FAU alumnus and former chair of the school's Board of Trustees. Amazing!
Geo Group paid FAU a $6 million lump sum to own naming rights to the stadium for the next 12 years. Welcome to "Owlcatraz."
"We're delighted that we've reached a point where we have a local company stepping up to name this stadium," FAU president Mary Jane Saunders said, via Dieter Kurtenbach of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "They're a wonderful company and we're very, very proud to be partnered with them."
Unfortunately, other members of the FAU community are not as pleased. For one, local fans and community members point out that Geo Group operates the Broward Transitional Center, a facility located less than 10 miles away from FAU's campus.
In September, 26 members of Congress wrote a letter to the director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement urging his department to "conduct a thorough case-by-care review of each individual" detained at the Geo Group facility.
Said the letter: "We are concerned by reports indicating that individuals who are, or should be, among the lowest immigration enforcement priorities have been detained at the Center for lengthy periods of time.
"Some of the reports coming out of the Center are horrifying," the letter continued. "For example, we received a report from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance that one female detainee was returned to her cell on the same day she had emergency ovarian surgery and that she suffered bleeding and inadequate follow-up care."
The letter also notes another similar case before stating that such situations "are shocking and should not be tolerated."
In June, Geo Group was fined $104,000 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which ruled the company failed to protect staff employees from safety and health hazards. The company has also lost lawsuits pertaining to the mistreatment of inmates, Kurtenbach writes.
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A petition to drop Geo Group as FAU's sponsor has already been started by the group Dream Activists. "Surely Florida Atlantic University does not endorse the actions of this company?" the petition asks. "The GEO Group Inc. serves as the United States second largest operator of private prisons and has a track-record of destroying communities all for a mere profit."
Reads the petition:
"The company formerly operated the infamous Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF) in Mississippi, where a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into abuses concluded that 'due to the unconstitutional operation of WGYCF, youth were sexually preyed upon by staff and all too frequently suffered grievous harm, including death.'
"The GEO Group does not benefit the community in Florida, rather it separates thousands of parents from their children; breaking up families on a daily basis. You can find evidence of GEO's atrocities and poor management in the locally run Broward Detention Center (BTC), which houses nearly 700 men and women."
What could possibly go wrong when a university located in South Florida sells its naming rights to a for-profit prison operator with a history of mistreating immigration detainees at a facility just a quick drive away from campus?
Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY Sports