Immigrants and activists say the facilities deliberately skimp on essentials, even food, to coerce detainees to labor for pennies an hour to supplement meager rations, Reuters reported.
For example, 25-year-old detainee Duglas Cruz, housed at the privately run Adelanto Detention Facility in Adelanto, California, works for a $1 per day wage in order to supplement a jailhouse diet that he told Reuters leaves him perpetually hungry. With his kitchen job, Cruz can save for a $3.25 can of tuna, which Reuters reported is four times the price of tuna at a nearby Target store.
In a lawsuit filed last year by the Southern Poverty Law Center against Nashville-based private prison company CoreCivic Inc., 67-year-old detainee Wilhen Hill Barrientos said detainees "either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant and food."
But Pablo Paez, a spokesman for Geo Group Inc. -- the largest private prison company in the U.S., which owns the Adelanto facility -- says allegations of wrongdoing are “completely false.” He told Reuters that detainees are given meals approved by dieticians, the labor program is strictly voluntary and wage rates are federally mandated.
In addition to the lawsuit filed by the SPLC, immigrants' rights groups have filed similar lawsuits against Geo Group and CoreCivic in California, Colorado, Texas and Washington.
Lawmakers are also taking notice. In November, 11 U.S. senators sent letters to Geo Group and CoreCivic criticizing the “perverse profit incentive at the core of the private prison business,” which has benefited from a crackdown on illegal immigrants under President Donald Trump, Reuters reported.
Paez told Reuters that Geo Group is preparing a detailed, comprehensive response to the senators, conceding that the company “fell short” in some areas of providing detainees care.
CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist told Reuters the company disagrees with the senators' assertions and that it provides "all daily needs" of detainees.