Here’s a mind-boggling one.
Florida Atlantic University, a 29,000-student public university in Boca Raton, will announce today that it has sold the naming rights to its football stadium to a private prison company that until recently ran a youthful offender facility in Mississippi whose “pervasive level of brazen staff sexual misconduct” was called “among the worst in the nation” by a 2012 Department of Justice investigation.
The Justice Department report on the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility found not only that Walnut Grove management was “deliberately indifferent to staff sexual misconduct,” but also that the facility “often use[d] excessive force as a first response” to disciplinary issues, tolerated active gang membership by facility employees, failed to protect inmates against physical and sexual assault by peers, and was “deliberately indifferent to the suicide risks and serious mental health needs of its youth.”
Walnut Grove was operated at the time by GEO Group, a global private prison operator. Later that year, after a federal judge described Walnut Grove as “a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts,” GEO was removed as manager of the institution. The company would later claim that it had chosen not to renew the contract because Walnut Grove was “financially underperforming.”)
First, the university has been searching for a corporate sponsor for the stadium without success since it opened two years ago. The $5 million reportedly offered by the GEO Group was apparently impossible to resist.
And second? Well, there’s GEO Group’s CEO, George Zoley. He’s a FAU alum and the former chair of the university’s board of trustees.
Update | It’s official. Thanks to a $6 million donation to the university, the stadium will now be named “GEO Group Stadium.” The university’s press release on the deal calls GEO Group a “fully integrated equity real estate investment trust specializing in the design, financing, development, and operation of correctional, detention, and community reentry facilities around the globe.”
Wednesday Update | The New York Times reports on the story, calling the deal a “a jarring case of the lengths colleges and teams will go to produce revenue, of the way that everything seems to be for sale now in sports — and to anyone with enough cash.” As well, it quotes local private-prison opponent Bob Libal as saying that the GEO Group has recently “poured enormous resources” into attempts “to take over a large portion of the Florida prison system,” characterizing yesterday’s agreement as an extension of that lobbying effort. GEO is, Libal says, “a company whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents that really draw into question their ability to successfully manage a prison facility.” As the Times itself notes, GEO “has been cited by state and federal regulators and lost a series of high-profile lawsuits.”
Asked by a Times reporter whether FAU had investigated such incidents before partnering with GEO, university president Saunders said, “we think it’s a wonderful company, and we’re very proud to partner with them.”
The Times also notes that two past FAU student government presidents have gone on to work for GEO Group.
Third Update | It has emerged that the GEO Group owns an immigrant detention center just ten miles from the Florida Atlantic campus that has been the target of criticism based on complaints of inadequate medical care and unjustified incarceration. The Miami Herald reported today that at least one current FAU student is a former detainee at the center.