Posts Tagged 'Florida'

Sponsoring a Florida College Football Team Can’t Whitewash a Private Prison Company’s Atrocious Record


Note: The following blog post originally appeared on the National ACLU Blog of Rights. That post can be seen here

Riled up? Sign this petition urging Florida Atlantic University to walk away from its deal with the GEO Group. The Owl football team should not have to play in Owlcatraz.

In Florida, incarceration is big business. So is college football. There might be some twisted logic, then, to the GEO Group, Inc.’s latest scheme to whitewash its public image. The GEO Group, a for-profit prison corporation headquartered in Boca Raton, announced on Tuesday that it had secured the naming rights to Florida Atlantic University’s football stadium in exchange for a $6 million donation to the university’s athletic program.

FAU president Mary Jane Saunders said of GEO, “We think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.” President Saunders must have been blinded by the size of GEO’s donation, because last time we checked the GEO Group had a horrific, well-publicized record of abuse and neglect. When the plans for the gray multi-story façade of the GEO Group Stadium, which has already been nicknamed “Owlcatraz” by students, were unveiled on Tuesday, so was a stark visual representation of FAU’s shameful willingness to associate itself with a company that is anything but “wonderful.”

To take just one example: last year, a federal judge issued a blistering order in a joint ACLU/Southern Poverty Law Center lawsuit against the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility, a GEO prison that held children and teenaged prisoners in Mississippi. Calling the GEO prison a “cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts and conditions” and “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world,” the judge ordered mass transfers out of the prison and ordered the company to stop locking children in solitary confinement. This came not long after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a similar report describing staff sexual misconduct at Walnut Grove as “brazen” and among the worst that DOJ had seen “in any facility anywhere in the nation.” A month later, the State of Mississippi ended its relationship with GEO.

Making inroads into the Florida corrections system would indeed be a major business boon for the GEO Group. Currently, Florida operates the third-largest prison system in the United States, a $2.2 billion-a-year enterprise overseeing over 100,000 inmates and another 115,000 on community supervision. The prison population has more than doubled since 1990 and nearly quadrupled since 1984.

Of all states, Florida imprisons the second-highest number of prisoners – over 11,000 or approximately 11% of the state prison population – in private facilities. And about 10 miles from the FAU stadium, GEO operates the 700-bed Broward Transition Center, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center. The Broward facility is the only immigration detention center in Florida run by a private company, to the tune of an annual $20 million contract with the federal government. BTC is unique in that it is reserved for immigrants who have committed no crime or a nonviolent offense. While many of the detainees pose no threat to the public, the conditions at GEO pose a substantial threat to their health and well being.

Last year, two young people with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, both brought to the U.S. undocumented when they were children, turned themselves in to gain access to BTC and investigate the conditions. They reported seeing lengthy and unnecessary confinement and numerous incidents of substandard medical care. They report a woman returned to her cell bleeding the same day of her ovarian surgery, and a man denied access to medical care for days while he urinated blood. In response to their report, 26 members of Congress demanded an investigation into the quality of medical care provided at BTC.

The $6 million that FAU accepted from GEO this week should not be viewed as a philanthropic gift, but a purchase of 12 years of stadium naming rights, advertising to improve the company’s image after its highly publicized improper treatment of detainees.

It is particularly galling that FAU and GEO made their announcement in the midst ofFAU’s commemoration of Black History Month. Prison profiteers like GEO depend for their profits on the continued large-scale incarceration of young men and women – many of whom are people of color. Nationwide, 58% of the people in prison are African-American or Latino, and 30.3% are between the ages of 18 and 29. (Indeed, one researcher recently found that African Americans and Latinos are even more overrepresented in private prisons than public prisons.). So the FAU Owls football team (most of whom are themselves African-American) will be sponsored by a company whose core business depends on the continued overincarceration of young people who look much like themselves.

TAKE ACTION: Join the ACLU, Beyond Bars, and the FAU community and ask FAU to walk away from GEO’s tainted money.

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Two Recent Victories for LGBT Rights

By Daniel Tilley
ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy

This week witnessed two steps forward in the movement for LGBT equality in Florida. First, courageous students at Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola successfully established a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), the first of its kind in the Escambia County School District.

When students tried to form the club last fall, the school denied their application. The ACLU of Florida intervened, and within days, the school reversed course. Now that the school has brought itself into compliance with federal law, the GSA – which is made up of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, along with straight allies – can work to end bullying, harassment, and discrimination against LGBT students and others.

As the school’s initial resistance to the club shows, this discrimination all too often comes not only from peers but from the very adults who are charged with protecting Florida’s students. The ACLU of Florida applauds the work of these brave students at Booker T. Washington High School.

In a second recent victory, the Board of County Commissioners for Pinellas County voted 6-1 to approve the creation of a domestic-partnership registry (DPR) in Pinellas County, a county with more than 900,000 residents. Through a DPR, same-sex couples can get access to important protections that would otherwise be denied to them, including access to domestic-partner health-insurance coverage and other benefits through a participating employer plan, visitation rights in medical facilities, emergency notification, and rights to certain medical decision-making.

Although the bundle of benefits is small, these benefits are among the most important a couple can have. The ACLU of Florida and other coalition partners, such as Equality Florida, played a substantial role in this effort. Notably, this victory comes on the heels of eight other DPR victories in Florida, and the ACLU of Florida continues to work successfully with coalition partners and provide technical assistance and support to pass such registries.

Kisha’sha B. Sharp, speaks at ACLU of Florida’s Let Me Vote Forum

Kisha’sha B. Sharp, General Counsel of the NAACP, Miami-Dade Branch, spoke about battling voter suppression at our “Let Me Vote” forum.

“We have answered the assault by registering more voters, and most importantly educating them on the new rules to ensure they have full access at the ballot box and turn out to vote.  We have utilized mobile technology and social media to recruit volunteers and register and educate voters. […]The bottom line is that we will not let any of the tactics be an excuse for anyone to fail to exercise their right to vote.”

Watch Kisha’sha’s remarks here:

For more information on the NAACP, Miami-Dade branch, visit

Natalie Carlier speaks at ACLU of Florida’s Let Me Vote event

Natalie Carter, South Florida Regional Field Coordinator for Civic Engagement for the National Council of La Raza, spoke about drawing inspiriation from her family in overcoming barriers to the ballot box.

In 2008 on the morning of election day, my mother rushed into my room at 6am to force me out of bed because we were going to go vote together. […] We stood in line together that day, waiting for the polls to open, and I realized then that my mom had come a long way from Colombia to the U.S. to let her voice be heard. And if it was important enough for her, it was important enough for me.”

Watch Natalie’s’s remarks here.

For more information on the National Council of La Raza, visit

Maribel Balbin speaks at ACLU of Florida’s Let Me Vote event

Maribel Balbin, President of the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County, spoke about how the league overcame restrictions on voter registrations to help people vote in this year’s election.

“Discouraging third-party voter registration groups from registering voters has a disproportionate impact on the minority community. Minority voters, such as blacks and Hispanics, are twice as likely to register to vote via a third-party group as non-minority voters. […]The New York Times reported that Florida was down 81,000 in voter registration this year, we at the League are doing everything possible to overcome that.”

Watch Maribel’s remarks here:

For more information on the League of Women Voters of Miami-Dade County, visit

Jameer Baptiste, Field Director for SAVE Dade, speaks at ACLU of Florida’s Let Me Vote Forum

Jameer Baptiste is a native Floridian born in Hollywood and raised in Pembroke Pines.  While at Florida International University, he dedicated his time to the advancement of the LGBT community as president of the GLBT Advocacy Coalition, vice-president of Stonewall Pride Alliance, and recruitment officer/sergeant-at-arms and proud brother of Delta Lambda Phi Fraternity; Beta Delta Chapter.

Jameer graduated, cum laude, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Public Relations. He continues to focus his attention and talents on the advancement of the LGBT community by working with SAVE Dade, volunteering his time to pro-equality activism and working on the board of the GLBT Alliance as youth engagement director.

Jameer’s personal mission is to ensure that the youth LGBT community is politically active and to build synergy within the community.

Watch Jameer’s remarks here:

For more information on SAVE Dade, visit

Dr. Rosalind Osgood speaks at ACLU of Florida’s Let Me Vote forum


Dr. Rosalind, Secretary of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, shared her personal story of overcoming barriers to participate in our democracy when she spoke at our “Let Me Vote” forum in Miami.

“Nothing in my history has led me to doubt that an empowered community will always overcome the most insurmountable challenges before them. I am a testament to that; So many of you in this room today are a testament to that; And across the country in the face of voter suppression, millions are standing together as testament to the strength of an empowered electorate.”

Watch Dr. Osgood’s remarks here:

For more information on the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, visit