February 20, 2013

FAU stadium strikes deal with prison firm

An agreement to rename Florida Atlantic University’s stadium for a prison company has drawn outrage.

Florida Atlantic University’s announcement to change the name of its football stadium to that of a private prison corporation accused of human rights violation has surprised and outraged students as well as South Florida’s pro-immigrant activists.

FAU announced Tuesday that it would name its stadium GEO Group Stadium after reaching an agreement with the private prison company that included a $6 million donation to the university, to be paid over 12 years. GEO is the company that owns the immigration detention center in Pompano Beach, about 10 miles from the stadium.

FAU President Mary Jane Saunder initially agreed to talk about the news, but after hearing questions about the immigration detention center, a university spokesperson said they would have to return the call later. At press time, the university had stopped responding to El Nuevo Herald’s calls.

But in a press release sent out earlier on Tuesday, Saunder praised GEO’s philanthropic gesture of making the largest donation the university’s athletic department has ever received.

“This gift is a true representation of The GEO Group’s incredible generosity to FAU and the community it serves,” she said.

Noor Fawzy, a political science student at FAU whose parents are Palestinian immigrants, is not so happy with the news.

“The fact that they are locking up people of color and immigrants like my parents is shameful,” said the 22-year-old, who is an elected member of the student government. “We don’t want our university to be associated with an entity that is being investigated for human rights abuses.”

Besides the United States, GEO Group also has private prisons in South Africa, the United Kingdom and Australia, where in 2003 it lost a contract after evidence was found that children detained in its facilities suffered cruel treatments, The New York Times reported in 2011. The company, which controls thousands of beds in private prisons and is worth almost $3 billion, is now in the middle of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit about mistreatment of prisoners.

Laura Pérez said the news was like a “pitcher of cold water.” In 2010, the Perezes were detained in the detention center at Pompano Beach known as Broward Transitional Center. Laura’s brother is now an FAU student. She asked for her brother to remain anonymous.

BTC has recently been in the midst of controversies after activists and people detained in the place denounced irregularities. Some complained to the media that they weren’t getting the proper medical care while others argued that they have been detained for lengthy periods of time at BTC despite meeting the qualifications to be eligible for prosecutorial discretion offered by the Obama administration.

GEO wouldn’t accommodate a phone interview on Tuesday. Instead, the firm asked to address questions in writing. A GEO Group executive said through email that the purpose of the donation is to help FAU’s academic priorities and athletic programs. GEO Group’s headquarters is in Boca Raton and the company’s president, George Zoley, is an FAU alumnus and a former chairman of the university’s board of trustees.

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