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Settlement In Forced Labor Case Against Private Prison Company Operating Immigration Detention Center

ATLANTA — This week the parties reached a settlement in a forced labor case against CoreCivic, Inc. (CoreCivic), the private prison company that operates Stewart Detention Center (Stewart) in Lumpkin, GA, for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The settlement resolves the claims of three individuals formerly detained at Stewart. The plaintiffs allege that CoreCivic forced them to work for as little as $1 per day in Stewart’s so-called “Voluntary Work Program” (Program) under threat of deprivation of basic necessities and punishment, including solitary confinement, in violation of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The plaintiffs — represented by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Project South and pro bono counsel, Perkins Coie LLP — also allege that CoreCivic was unjustly enriched by the plaintiffs’ forced labor. Instead of offering those jobs to outside workers from the community for a living wage, CoreCivic relied on the nearly free labor of plaintiffs, and hundreds of other detained workers, to operate Stewart.

The settlement requires CoreCivic to provide a document to every detained person at Stewart who elects to participate in the Program that declares their rights as workers, stating:

  • They cannot be forced to work and can refuse to work at any time.
  • They have the right to receive:
    • Prompt monetary compensation for their work
    • Relevant training
    • Necessary work wear and safety equipment
  • Respect from facility staff
  • CoreCivic will make the document available to all detained workers in English and Spanish and will provide additional interpretation, as necessary.

The settlement also provides additional, confidential benefits to the individual plaintiffs.

“The declaration of rights is a call to action to those in immigration jails to keep fighting for justice, and it makes clear that they should not face the abuses that I suffered at Stewart," said Plaintiff Wilhen Hill Barrientos.

“This settlement is the result of the bravery of the Plaintiffs who, after surviving horrendous conditions and treatment at Stewart, were determined to fight for change so that no other detained person would have to suffer the same experience,” stated Meredith Stewart, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. “The intentional obscuring of rights in immigrant detention allows abuse and exploitation to flourish. The settlement document is a bill of rights for detained workers at Stewart and a tool for workers to advocate for justice beyond this one facility.”

Wilhen Hill Barrientos, et al., v. CoreCivic, Inc. is one of three forced labor cases against CoreCivic. There are over half a dozen forced labor cases against other ICE private prison operators, including The GEO Group, Inc. and LaSalle Corrections. The ostensibly voluntary work programs at ICE detention centers are a key component of the private prison companies’ business model — the industry would not be nearly as profitable without them.

“This settlement is only the first step in the long struggle towards justice for survivors of forced labor and other human rights violations at this notorious ICE prison,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal & Advocacy Director at Project South. “We will not rest until Stewart is shut down and until ICE and the private prison corporation CoreCivic are fully held to account for more than a decade of systematic abuse against migrants.”

“It was a privilege to work on this matter with our colleagues at non-profit organizations dedicated to assuring that all people impacted by the U.S. immigration system, and in particular individuals detained in civil detention centers operated by for-profit companies, are treated with dignity and respect,” said Alan Howard, partner at Perkins Coie LLP.