Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is taking on the GEO Group, the multibillion-dollar corporation that runs the fourth-largest U.S. detention center, located in Tacoma, the Seattle Times reports. Ferguson sued the company, which operates the Northwest Detention Center and 140 other such facilities nationwide. The suit accuses GEO of violating state minimum-wage law by paying detainees $1 a day—or sometimes just chips and candy—to work at the detention center. “Let’s be honest about what’s going on,” said Ferguson. “GEO has a captive population of vulnerable individuals who cannot easily advocate for themselves. This corporation is exploiting those workers for their own profits.”
GEO projected in 2015 that its Tacoma facility would take in $57 million in revenues annually at full capacity, around 1,575 people. The company earned more than $2 billion in 2016. The Florida-based company uses detainee labor to perform virtually all work at the detention center besides security, says Ferguson. That includes preparing meals, doing laundry and cleaning common areas and restrooms. GEO denied “the baseless and meritless allegations made in this lawsuit,” calling detainee labor a “voluntary work program.” GEO said its wage rates follow standards set “exclusively” by the federal government. That might mean that GEO plans to challenge the state’s authority. Washington’s minimum wage is $11 an hour. Ferguson said the Northwest Detention Center is not a criminal correctional facility; detainees held there are going through civil immigration proceedings.