For-Profit ICE Jail Faces Second Hunger Strike in Two Years

The entrance to Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, January 21, 2009. (Photo: Seattle Globalist)The entrance to Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, January 21, 2009. (Photo: Seattle Globalist)

A hunger strike at a privately-run immigration detention facility in Tacoma, Washington entered its third day on Thursday.

More than 750 people are participating, according to supporters holding a demonstration at noon on Wednesday, in front of the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC). The rally is being held, in part, to see if the hunger strike will continue.

Prisoners began refusing meals at lunchtime on Monday, in protest over conditions at the privately-run prison. Specifically, they want speedier hearings, improved food and healthcare access, and lower prices at the prison’s store.

The hunger strike was also launched to protest working conditions at NWDC. Prisoners are paid $1 every day for fulfilling jobs that prison managers need completed. Despite the pitiful compensation they receive, some have reported wage theft.

“Some have even been denied the $1/day payment, and have been given a bag of chips in exchange for several nights of waxing the prison’s floors,” Latino Rebels said on Monday.

Northwest Detention Center also played host to a hunger strike in 2014. About 1,200 detained immigrants participated in an action lasting 56 days. Reasons for the protest were similar to those cited by hunger strike participants this week.

The group that helped organized both actions, NWDC Resistance, said that conditions have deteriorated since the presidential changeover.

“Detention conditions were already terrible under Obama, and from what we’re hearing, they’ve gotten even worse since Trump’s election,” the organization stated on Monday.

“We know from past hunger strikes that ICE and GEO are quick to retaliate, and we want the hunger strikers to know that they are not alone,” they added.

GEO Group is one of the nation’s largest for-profit prison corporations in the United States. The company saw its stock price tumble last August, after the Obama administration said private jailers should be phased out of Bureau of Prison operations.

“The policy change does not cover private prisons used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which hold up to 34,000 immigrants awaiting deportation,” AP reported at the time.

In the wake of President Trump’s election GEO’s stock price recovered and has since surpassed its value, at the time of the Obama administration’s phase-out announcement.

GEO stock saw an additional boost earlier this week, on the morning when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced an intensification of the ongoing crackdown on undocumented immigrants. The company’s share price was up by about 2 percent — to $47.87, from $46.98 — one hour after Tuesday morning’s opening bell.

Sessions plans, which include prosecuting the “transportation or harboring of aliens,” were blasted by critics as an assault on immigrant communities and support networks.

“Sessions’ memo is more about creating a boon to the prison industry that will balloon as a result and less about any semblance of safety in our cities,” Mijente field director Jacinta Gonzalez said.