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Here's a tip: If your 'voluntary' prison work program offers two choices, either work for your toilet paper, toothpaste, and other hygiene products, or face additional criminal charges and 30 days in solitary confinement, it's not really a voluntary work program.
That's just one of the many horrific allegations contained in a lawsuit against the nation's largest private prison operator, CoreCivic, the
second third lawsuit to charge the company with human trafficking filed in the past year.
No Real Choice at All
According to the most recent lawsuit, filed in Georgia by plaintiffs Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez Galicia, and Shoahib Ahmed (with help from attorneys from the Southern Poverty Law Center), toilet paper and other hygiene products are only available from the detention center commissary, and the only way to make money to shop at the commissary, a grand total $1 to $4 per day, is to "voluntarily" mop floors, scrub toilets, and serve meals.
Another benefit to the work program? Access to private two-person "pods" with fully functioning showers and private bathrooms. Which sound pretty swank when compared to the "dormitories" described in the suit:
"There is no privacy ... 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. Indeed, the detained immigrants refer to open dormitories as 'El Gallinero,' or 'the Chicken Coop,' for both the conditions and overcrowded living quarters."
ICE-ing on the Cake
And, according to CoreCivic, that's just fine. "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation," company spokesperson Jonathan Burns told The Daily Beast. "Regarding detainee work in our facilities, 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. We have worked in close partnership with ICE for more than 30 years and will continue to provide a safe and humane environment to those entrusted to our care."
Depending on your thoughts on ICE (the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement) that statement may or may not be particularly reassuring. Homeland Security's own internal investigation "identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees' rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment" at five detention facilities, including the one at the center of the most recent lawsuit.
And in case you're thinking that all of this sounds pretty similar to any normal prison, that same report was careful to point out: "All ICE detainees are held in civil, not criminal, custody, which is not supposed to be punitive."
The punishment for not volunteering to work in CoreCivic's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia? "In one instance, Mr. Barrientos ran out of toilet paper and requested another roll from a CoreCivic officer," his lawsuit claims. "The CoreCivic officer told Mr. Barrientos to use his fingers to clean himself."