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Class action suit accuses private prison contractor of forced labor practices

[JURIST] A class action lawsuit filed in a Georgia federal district court on Tuesday accuses [complaint, PDF] CoreCivil [corporate website], one of the country's largest private prison contractors, of "maintain[ing] a deprivation scheme intended to force detained immigrants to work for nearly free" in order to maximize its profits, in violation of federal labor law and common law equity principles.

The action was brought in the US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia [official website] by the Southern Poverty Law Center, Law Office of R. Andrew Free, Project South and Burns Charest LLP [websites] on behalf of three immigrants detained at CoreCivic's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.

The plaintiffs contend that any detainees who refuse to participate in the Stuart Center's voluntary work program are subject to harsh retaliatory conditions. The complaint states that the coercive nature is to such an extent that it is essentially a mandate:

CoreCivic deprives detained immigrants of basic necessities like food, toothpaste, toilet paper, and soap—and contact with loved ones—so that they have to work in order to purchase those items and costly phone cards at CoreCivic's commissary. CoreCivic then threatens detained immigrants who refuse to work with serious harm, including the deprivation of privacy and safety in open living quarters, referral for criminal prosecution, and, ultimately, the sensory and psychological deprivation of their humanity resulting from solitary confinement. Under these circumstances, no labor is voluntary—it is forced.
The deprivation of basic necessities, placement in solitary confinement, and threatened use of prosecution for failure to follow a work order are all argued as violations of federal forced labor standards [text].

The plaintiffs further argue that CoreCivic, which is one of the nation's most profitable private prison companies, has been unjustly enriched as a result of their forced labor practices. Inmates are required to perform the routine work necessary to keep such a facility operational (sweeping, mopping, cooking, scrubbing toilets, etc.) but are only paid "between 1 dollar and 4 dollars per day [and] ... [u]nder no circumstances does CoreCivic pay the detained immigrant workers anything close to the federal minimum wage." The plaintiffs argue that:

CoreCivic's economic windfall, and the profitability of its immigration detention enterprise, arises from its corporate scheme, plan, and pattern of systemically withholding basic necessities from detained immigrants to ensure a readily available, captive labor force that cleans, maintains, and operates its facilities for subminimum wages under threat of solitary confinement, criminal prosecution, and other sanctions ... Without this nearly free labor, CoreCivic's windfall from immigrant detention would be substantially decreased.
As such, the plaintiffs seek damages for all immigrants who participated in the voluntary work program for the past decade.

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