Private Prison Co. Again Accused of Human Rights Abuses

A publicly traded company that runs private prison facilities across the country is again facing accusations of human rights abuses against inmates in its facilities.

Immigrants at a Washington State detention center run by the GEO Group, Inc. are being held in conditions that violate both international and U.S. law, says a new report released by the Seattle University School of Law and the human rights group OneAmerica.

The report concludes that immigrants at the Northwest Detention Facility, including refugees and asylum seekers, are being held in "an atmosphere of intimidation" which includes verbal abuse, sexual harassment, strip searches, and poor to non-existent mental and physical health care.

While the Northwest Detention Facility in Tacoma, Washington is overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) it is run the GEO Group.

This is not the first time GEO has been accused of violating the rights of inmates in its care.

In 2000, when the company was known as Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, the U.S. Department of Justice sued them over "excessive abuse and neglect" of inmates at the Jena Juvenile Justice Center in Jena, Louisiana. The suit was settled without a trial, said U.S. Attorney David R. Dugas, and later that year the state terminated the company's contract to run the facility.

Two years later, three former employees were found guilty of civil rights conspiracy and obstruction including lying to investigators, in the aftermath of the beating of an inmate in a New Mexico facility.

And last October, the Texas Youth Commission removed inmates from one of the company's juvenile facilities after an official visited and determined the conditions were "unsafe."

Despite this, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently granted GEO a five-year, multi-million contract extension with the state.

Schwarzenegger's office referred ABC News to the California Department of Corrections, which oversees the contract, for comment. The department said that GEO, which currently operates four facilities in the state, has scored well on state audits thus far.

According to ICE, GEO owns and operates immigration detention centers in Denver, Miami and Jena, Louisiana, in addition to the Tacoma facility.

A spokesman for the GEO Group declined to speak about the report, stating, "As a matter of policy our company does not comment on third party allegations."

In preparing the report, SU law students interviewed 41 current detainees, including 16 refugees. They also interviewed immigration attorneys whose clients have been housed in the facility, and were given two official tours.

The report states that many detainees are not given adequate amounts of food, are pressured to sign papers they do not understand, and are prevented from openly discussing their cases with attorneys.

ICE disputes the allegations in the report, saying it contains "numerous inaccuracies and vague references." The agency sent ABC News a detailed statement refuting specific allegations, including overcrowding, excessive strip searches and lack of due process. (click here to read full response from ICE)

"ICE was never given the opportunity to respond to the accusations before the report was released," wrote ICE Public Affairs Officer Tim Counts.

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