Up to 780 immigrants facing deportation will be held at a detention center in South Georgia starting early next year under a new five-year contract recently signed by the federal government and Charlton County.
To be located adjacent to an existing federal prison near the Georgia-Florida border, the Folkston ICE Processing Center will be operated by GEO Group, a private corrections company that is expecting to generate $21 million in revenue from the agreement. The contract is also projected to create 231 new jobs — primarily detention center officers — and generate $265,000 in annual property tax revenue and management fees for Charlton, which will handle transactions between GEO and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The center could start housing adult male ICE detainees as soon as the first quarter of next year. A top county official said it is needed partly to house Haitians who are entering the U.S. without authorization.
News of the contract comes as the Obama administration is considering phasing out the use of privately run immigration detention centers in Georgia and across the nation. The U.S. Justice Department has already announced it is going that route for its prisoners. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said her agency — which includes ICE — is now considering recommendations from an advisory panel.
Critics want the government to sever ties with privately run detention centers, saying they are profiting off the imprisonment of immigrants. But dumping those centers and replacing them with publicly owned and operated ones could take years and cost billions of dollars in taxpayer money, according to ICE.
Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America owns and operates the 1,918-bed Stewart Detention Center south of Atlanta for ICE.
Miami-based CGL and Louisiana-based LaSalle Corrections run the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. That center has 512 beds for ICE detainees.
In all, the Folkston facility is expected to create an estimated economic impact of about $42 million for the area, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, a Republican from Pooler, said in a news release.
GEO Group is the largest employer within the county, Charlton Administrator Shawn Boatright said in an email. “GEO Group has provided many benefits to Charlton County and we are thrilled to have them here in our community,” Boatright said. “GEO Group also provides a great deal of community involvement, such as the food drive that took place last Thursday.”
Critics, though, aren’t impressed. Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for an immigrant rights advocacy group called Project South, called the new contract with Charlton disappointing, saying “private immigration prisons are rife with abuse.”
“They also don’t save on costs and have a poor safety record, as they try to cut corners to maximize their profits,” she said.
GEO spokesman Pablo Paez said his company is proud of its “record of providing safe, secure and humane facilities.”
“Profit motives have never compromised our commitment to treating those we care for humanely and with respect,” he said, “and our track record of consistently high ratings from the Bureau of Prisons, ICE, and other agencies demonstrates that fact.”