One of the world’s largest private prison companies is under investigation for deaths that occurred at a private hospital in South Florida that it operates. The South Florida State Hospital is owned by GEO Group, which is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida. According to its web site, GEO Group operates 110 facilities with 75,000 beds located in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa.
GEO Group is no stranger to controversy. An ACLU report documented the many cases of human rights abuses at private prisons, including those run by the GEO Group. According to reporting from TruthOut, at a juvenile prison run by GEO Group in West Texas inmates were found living in filth. The Texas Youth Commission eventually fired several employees failed to report on the horrific conditions.
Now, it seems that three deaths of patients at the GEO Group owned hospital have triggered and investigation by the state of Florida. The deaths where allegedly caused by a patient having their head slammed through a wall, another being scalded in a hot bath, and another who committed suicide while under the supervision of only one corrections officer which was against protocol. The deaths happened within a two month period and have raised serious questions:
State officials requested a review of the facility “in response to significant events in past several months,” including the deaths. The state also reviewed cases of individuals who had been placed into solitary confinement and restraints multiple times and other incidents at the facility, but the report offered few details of those incidents.
The 335-bed facility, located in Broward County, is operated by The GEO Group Inc., a Boca Raton-based firm that is one of the world’s largest private operators of prisons and detention centers. Many of the patients are mentally ill and admitted against their will because they are considered a threat to themselves or others. Some are admitted because they are not competent to stand trial, but don’t need to be in a high-security facility.
GEO said in a statement Wednesday that the deaths are not a reflection of its “high quality operation” and noted that patients’ health outcomes and the average length of stay have improved since it took over the facility. The state has paid the company more than $500 million to run the hospital since 1998. It was one of the first state civil psychiatric hospitals in the U.S. to be fully operated by a private company.
GEO runs three other facilities in Florida: the Florida Civil Commitment Center in Arcadia, which treats sex offenders; and mental health facilities in Indiantown and Florida City for patients who aren’t competent to stand trial or have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins said his agency is renegotiating GEO’s contract. Its facilities will be required to have a DCF investigator on site — a practice already used in the state-run facilities.