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Part of Folkston private prison to close

Maggie Lee
A prison fence

By Maggie Lee

The GEO Group will close a part of private prison complex in Folkston and lay off 316 people, according to a letter from the company.

Part of the D. Ray James Correctional Facility today holds 1,276 federal offenders who will have to go elsewhere. The federal Bureau of Prisons decided not to renew a contract with The GEO Group, a Florida-based company which runs the facility.

“The BOP conducted a review and analysis of our inmate population and determined appropriate bed space for projected population figures is available within our own physical inventory,” read a Wednesday statement from the federal agency.

In a note to investors Thursday, The GEO Group said the contract was worth about $60 million per year.

Late last month, The GEO Group informed the Georgia Department of Labor of the layoffs, which will take effect September 30.

Another part of D. Ray James holds a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center, a 780-bed immigrant detention facility. An ICE spokesperson said that the closings are not related to ICE operations.

The prison complex held state offenders until a 2010 deal saw GEO switch D. Ray James into a federal lockup.

That’s the same year Georgians elected Gov. Nathan Deal. His marquee policy over eight years would be alternative sentences and other criminal justice measures to slow the expensive rise in the state’s prison population.

The federal Department of Justice under President Barack Obama said in 2016 it’s going to stop the use of private prisons. The Trump administration rescinded that decision.

But ICE, part of the federal Department of Homeland Security, has gone back and forth a bit about how much to space to rent for immigrant detention at Folkston, if any at all.

Immigration advocates regularly denounce the Folkston center and other ICE detention centers for poor conditions. News outlets often carry stories of people who say cost-cutting at private prisons puts detainees at risk of hunger, sickness or violence. And just as often, ICE and private prison contractors deny rule-breaking.

GEO Group itself had already warned investors that it expects revenue to fall in 2020 from ICE and U.S. Marshals facilities. During the pandemic, fewer people are crossing the U.S. border and court activity is slow.

Document:

WARN Letter – GEO Secure Services, LLC – D. Ray James, Folkston, GA – July 30 2020

Update: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that the Trump administration is in favor of using private prisons.
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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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