A federal jury in Washington state found the Florida-based GEO Group, one of the largest private prison providers in the country and operator of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma since 2005, took excessive profits by paying immigrant detainees below the federal minimum wage. Detainees earned $1 a day for cleaning and cooking services that the private prison company was required to perform under its contract with federal authorities, reports the Courthouse News Service. The verdict decided that the detainees are employees under state law and deserve minimum wage.
Lawyers for GEO attempted to argue the company could not employ the detainees because it was merely operating an ICE-mandated program. The state countered GEO had crafted job descriptions, assigned jobs and evaluated whether the jobs were completed. Analyses from GEO found that it would take 85 full-time employees to substitute for the daily work of upward of 400 detainees, according to the state. A number of former detainees testified about grueling work they performed to earn extra cash for food from a jail commissary. “If it looks like work, sounds like work and acts like work, it’s work,” said Washington Assistant Attorney General Marsha Chien.