GEO To Shutter Adelanto ICE Processing Center Next Month

The GEO Group, which runs two private prison facilities in Adelanto under contract with the federal government, will shutter one of those in April.
Despite incessant reporting of a wasteful contractual arrangement between the U.S. and GEO, by which the government is squandering millions of dollars every year and through which indications are that GEO is profiting handsomely, neither side would state definitively whether closing out the now-sparsely occupied Adelanto ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Processing Center will entail the cancellation of the contract for the illegal/undocumented alien detainee processing and holding center.
There were multiple irregularities or omissions in the communications made between Boca Raton, Florida-based GEO Group, Inc. and the non-federal governmental entities at the state and local level, which under normal protocol are kept abreast of developments impacting operations at the prison facilities.
What is clear is that a pending layoff of some 112 employees in place at the for-some-time significantly underused and underoccupied 2,000-bed Adelanto ICE Processing Center located at 10400 Rancho Road will take place on or around April 14.
Those to be laid off are employees of the GEO Group subsidiary, GEO Secure Services LLC, which employs, primarily, prison guards and the faculty to support them.

Years ago, Adelanto officials had waded through considerable resident and activist resistance in embarking on a strategy to overcome a situation in which bankruptcy or even municipal disincorporation loomed by welcoming a number of penal institutions into the community, including those operated by GEO and the sheriff’s department’s High Desert Detention Center.  The presence of those facilities in Adelanto, officials said, would economically benefit the community. Those opposed to allowing the prisons and jails to set up operation in the city cited what they said was the obvious threat to the community posed by possible escapes as well as the potential that the city would become known as a penal colony, which might discourage other types of businesses from locating in the city. Concern was expressed, as well, about the prospect that once the facilities were up and running, fluctuations in state and national policy with regard to the response to criminality and rehabilitation could lead to the institutions being abandoned. That scenario appears to be playing out.
In addition, some have accused GEO of withholding information and now slinking out of town without informing the community or officials of its plans and what the future of the ICE Processing Center and its sister holding facility is to be.
Adelanto municipal, county and state officials did not learn of the pending closure by post until two days ago, Wednesday March 1. That letter was dated February 15. Identical letters – one to Adelanto Mayor Gabriel Reyes, another to San Bernardino County Workforce Development Director Brad Gates, and a third to California’s Employment Development Department – were delivered Wednesday, fully 14 days after GEO claimed the letter was drafted and sent.
According to the letter from CEO Vice President Christopher Ryan, the lion’s share of the employees at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center to get pink slips – 96 – are members of the United Government Security Officers of America, meaning they are employed as guards. Nine are represented by Teamsters Local 1932, meaning service workers such as cooks, maintenance workers and janitors. The other seven are nurses, electricians and technicians who are not unionized.
Ryan said circumstances relating to operations had led to the “unfortunate development” that is in the offing, with more than 100 people losing their jobs, despite GEO’s “successful performance” in operating the Adelanto ICE Processing Center.
While the closure of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center is troubling to the city as well as to those employed there, a number of others, including immigration reform advocates, those who conversely support the use of harsh tactics in dealing with undocumented or illegal immigrants but want that activity streamlined and those advocating governmental financial responsibility, hailed the closure.
The privatization of prisons has been a controversial issue for some time.
In the 19th Century, private prisons which involved “convict leasing” to fulfill private sector labor needs were not uncommon. Their existence and use diminished in the early and mid-20th Century, but gathered cachet in the 1980s, when CoreCivic, LaSalle Corrections, Management and Training Corporation and Wackenhut, which later evolved into GEO, began operating, at first in Tennessee and then in Texas, before catching on in other states in response to the rapidly rising prison population during that decade, which was partially an outgrowth of the so-called war on drugs.
Arguments in favor of private prisons include that they can reduce prison overpopulation in state-operated and federally-run institutions, making the facilities safer for inmates and employees, that they can relieve and therefore improve upon what many consider to be a broken government-run prison system and that private prisons can offer innovative programs to lower the rates of re-imprisonment.
At the same time, many oppose privatizing prisons because of the potential exploitation of both prisoners and employees for corporate gain. Moreover, the savings private prisons are supposed to offer can be a chimera, since they are not suited for handling the most hardened of criminals, which leaves the government saddled with incarcerating the most expensive prisoners. Many critics hold that the recidivism rate among those held in private prisons is every bit as bad as those in governmental lockdown.
The Adelanto ICE facility presented difficulty on a number of levels. One issue was that the degree of sociopathy among its inmates varied radically. It was used exclusively by the federal government for housing detained illegal and undocumented immigrants and was the largest of the holding facilities maintained under the auspices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security in California and one of the largest in the country, with an average detainee population of almost 2,000.
While a good share of those it housed were bona fide criminals, ones who had in-depth criminal histories in their countries of origin, others were guilty of nothing more than having disobeyed U.S. immigration law. The combination of sociopaths and non-criminal sorts in a dense proximity to one another was a formula for difficulty, if not outright disaster.
Whether many of those previously housed and currently incarcerated at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center should be considered criminal inmates is a matter of definition. Though those there were and are technically in violation of United States immigration law, at least some have legitimate political asylum claims. The number of asylum seekers at Adelanto was previously substantial. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as of March 2018, there were 445 detainees who were seeking asylum, or 27 percent of the facility’s population. More than 50 percent of the women held at the facility were seeking asylum.
Two such prisoners seeking asylum were a man and wife, previously identified to the Sentinel as Sofia and Aleksei.
Sofia sought asylum in the United States due to what she said was persecution she faced in Russia. Her husband was also detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center starting in 2017. By 2018, Sofia had been sent to the facility’s hospital ward following a failed suicide in which she attempted to cut her wrists. She had largely been denied any sort of physical access to her husband and her consequent requests to send him letters or speak with him by phone were denied. Sofia described feeling anxious and depressed, based on her living conditions and lack of medical treatment in the Adelanto facility. When she experienced intense headaches, her requests for medical care went unanswered. Other requests for small sources of comfort, such as a book in Russian or a sweater, were also denied. She requested to see mental health staff but told an interviewer that “They make me feel worse.” She said she had been allowed only minimal outdoor recreation time, making it difficult to exercise regularly. Clinical staff also directed Sofia to use ‘religious coping’ even though she is not religious. A review of her medical records showed that the prison’s mental health staff persisted with such recommendations even as Sofia reported objective signs of deteriorating mental health, including reports of suicidal thoughts. Despite no history of suicidal tendency or self-harm prior to her detention at Adelanto, roughly four-and-a-half months into her detention, Sofia attempted to foredo herself.
Her husband, Aleksei, had been apprehended by immigration agents along with his wife. He was diagnosed as suffering from pancreatitis and gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition that causes intense abdominal and chest pain. His medications were discontinued when he arrived at Adelanto. Within a few weeks, his pain had become so severe that he could not walk or stand. Staff provided him ibuprofen repeatedly, which according to Disability Rights Center experts, is inappropriate for a patient with his condition and could lead to dangerous internal bleeding. After more than a year in detention with worsening symptoms, including symptoms of internal bleeding, Aleksei still had not received a clinically indicated follow-up, such as an endoscopy ordered by medical staff.
Aleksei described staff as “treating us like animals.” He related that GEO staff forced his entire housing unit to get up in the early hours of the morning and stand outside in the cold because some detainees had complained about one officer’s behavior towards them. Many of the men housed with him had no shoes and wore only underwear, he said.
In protest against not receiving updates on his immigration case, Aleksei began a hunger strike. He was placed in a suicide watch cell for two days, where he said, the lights were kept on constantly. Leading to him being unable to sleep the entire time he was in the suicide watch cell. He thereafter attempted suicide by lacerating a vein in his arm, using a razor that was too dull to inflict fatal harm. He was therefore consigned to further incarceration in the suicide watch cell. At one point he was baying like an animal, screaming for someone to end his life and to be permitted to see his wife. After he was released from the suicide watch cell, he withdrew entirely from Adelanto ICE Processing Center mental health staff. The description of him given to the Sentinel was that he was no longer engaged with the outside world and was lying in bed constantly.
In February 2019, a 64-page report “There Is No Safety Here” prepared for the Disability Rights Center of California by Aaron J. Fischer, litigation counsel; Pilar Gonzalez, supervising attorney; Richard Diaz, staff attorney; and Disability Rights Center subject matter experts Altaf Saadi, M.D., M.S.H.S. and Erica Lubliner, M.D. was published. It stated, “People held at Adelanto are subjected to punitive, prison-like conditions that harm people with disabilities. Adelanto is infused with unnecessarily harsh – and in effect, punitive – conditions, raising questions as to whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO Group are violating the constitutional rights of the people held there as civil detainees. Adelanto looks, feels and operates like a prison, from the extreme idleness and regimented daily schedule to the use of solitary confinement-type housing. In fact, the east side of the facility was constructed to be and was operated as a prison for many years. Immigration Customs Enforcement is underutilizing feasible alternatives to detention for people who can be effectively supervised in the community. The facility’s prison-like conditions disproportionately harm people with mental illness and other disabilities.”
The report continues, “Adelanto has an inadequate mental health care and medical care system, made worse by the facility’s counter-therapeutic conditions and practices. We identified many people with serious mental health needs who have suffered in detention. They receive inadequate clinical contacts and ineffective, non-individualized treatment. GEO Group fails to provide structured mental health programming to meet Adelanto detainees’ clinical treatment needs. GEO Group also restricts people’s ability to engage in self-directed activities, including something as simple as reading books that help them cope in detention. Men and women at the facility are further harmed by the facility’s harsh and non-therapeutic institutional responses to people in psychiatric crisis. When people are in crisis, they are met with pepper spray and extreme isolation. We also found several examples of deficient medication management practices that are dangerous and harmful. Overall, conditions at Adelanto are antithetical to the therapeutic, trauma-informed approach to treatment that is recommended by mental health professionals and that many people at the facility need. We found that GEO Group operates administrative and disciplinary segregation units that are extremely restrictive and in some cases reflect solitary confinement-type conditions. These segregation units put people with mental health disabilities at substantial risk of psychological and even physical harm. We found people who had suffered greatly in these units, and even attempted suicide. The specter of being placed in solitary confinement hangs over all Adelanto detainees. More than 50 offenses can result in a detainee’s placement in solitary confinement, including minor infractions like ‘refusal to clean assigned living area,’ ‘refusing to obey a staff member officer’s order,’ ‘being in an unauthorized area,’ or ‘failure to stand [during] count.’”
As part of an effort to hang onto its contract and minimize problems at the Adelanto facility and avoid scrutiny, thus reducing chances of corrective action, the GEO Group hid what was going on at the Adelanto Detention Center, according to the report.
“GEO Group significantly underreports data on the number of suicide attempts that occur at Adelanto, according to Fischer, Gonzalez, Diaz, Saadi and Lubliner. “The frequency with which detainees engage in self-harm or attempt suicide at the facility demands attention. However, we found that GEO Group’s reporting practices result in significant underreporting of this information. For example, GEO Group’s data, as reported to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, show zero suicide attempts at the facility for the first ten months of 2018. Our investigation showed this to be demonstrably false.”
Meanwhile a number of immigration reform groups, including Freedom for Immigrants and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, actively protested conditions at the facility.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that effort struck paydirt when a federal judge ruled that keeping the prisoners housed in the Adelanto ICE Processing Center bunched together in close proximity to one another represented too great of a danger to them, which necessitated that GEO drastically reduce the number of prisoners housed at the facility.
As of July 2022, the Adelanto ICE Processing Center was housing a mere 49 detainees, despite the more than 2,000-inmate capacity of the facility and the consideration that the federal government was at that time and had previously been consistently paying it to operate 1,455 beds per day.
On one side, immigration reform activists and prison reformers were assailing ICE and GEO for the inhumane conditions at the prison. Suddenly, on the other end of the spectrum, those advocating strict anti-immigration enforcement were up in arms about the manner in which GEO was still profiting, and profiting handsomely, even though it was no longer pulling its weight in the fight against immigration.
In Calendar year 2022, according to GEO’s annual report, the company had realized a net profit of $171.7 million.
A huge part of that profit is derived as a consequence of guaranteed contracts the U.S. government has entered into with GEO. Under those contracts, the government is obliged to defray the cost of a given number of beds, irrespective of whether they are filled. In the case of the Adelanto Ice Processing Center, Uncle Sam is committed to covering the cost of no fewer than 1,455 beds a day for the life of the contract. In its arrangements with GEO and other private prison operators, the government is paying to reserve 30,000 beds a year, though fewer than one half of those are utilized both because of court orders relating to the pandemic and other factors.
Those calling for immigration enforcement see that as a squandering of money. In the case of the Adelanto facility, they ask, what was the United States government doing in paying GEO more $30 million to house a mere 49 illegal immigrants? Why, they asked, was GEO employing 112 people to monitor and guard 49 detainees? They called for the shuttering of GEO’s facilities such as those in Adelanto in favor of a more efficient and less costly way of holding illegal immigrants before deporting them to their country of origin.
Consequently, it appears, the Adelanto ICE Processing Center is to be shuttered. The roughly 45 inmates there will be transferred to GEO’s other facility located within visual range of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, the 750-bed Desert View Annex.
Unknown, however, are the terms of the contract between the U.S. Government and GEO with regard to the Adelanto ICE Processing Center. Presumably, the U.S. Government will be off the hook for the roughly $30 million per year it has been paying to GEO for the use of that facility.
-Mark Gutglueck

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