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Company behind possible detention facility has troubling history

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has determined that the Chicago region needs a detention facility for immigrants so that people from the area who are held for immigration issues can be closer to their families and other resources. The recent purchase of some property in nearby Hobart, Indiana, by a company that runs immigration and correctional detention facilities has people speculating that this is the intended use for the property.

Hobart city officials are keeping mum about specific plans for the 40-acre piece of land. So is the company itself, The GEO Group. The company, based in Florida, claims to be the "leading provider of correctional, detention and community re-entry services" in the world. However, it has a troubling history with its other detention facilities.

Facilities owned by The GEO Group have faced multiple lawsuits and other accusations of wrongful death, poor health care and sexual harassment over the past few years. They have also been the subject of a lawsuit by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on behalf of two of its female prison employees who alleged verbal and physical harassment. That suit resulted in a $140,000 penalty for the company. That's small change compared to the nearly $3 million it paid to settle a class-action suit involving strip searches. In 2011, The GEO Group was ordered to pay $6.5 million in the wrongful death case of an Oklahoma prisoner who was killed by his cellmate.

Hobart officials have been reassuring nervous residents that in order for a detention or correctional facility to be built on the site, public hearings and city and planning commission approval would be required. Another company that attempted to construct a facility in neighboring Crete, Illinois, was stopped by objections from people living in the town.

Detention and correctional facilities can prove to be a mixed bag for an area. On the one hand, they provide jobs. However, they can also be a source of safety concerns for the community. Regardless of how people feel about having such a facility nearby, most people believe that prisoners and detainees have basic rights that the facilities housing them are obligated to protect. The troubling cases settled by the company that may be building a facility in our area is all the more reason for residents to be concerned.

Source:  Post-Tribune, "St. Sava property in Hobart purchased by detention facility operator" Karen Caffarini, Nov. 08, 2013

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