Controversial private prison company the GEO Group announced yesterday that it is pulling out of a deal to buy naming rights for the Florida Atlantic University football stadium.
GEO’s prisons, including immigration detention centers and juvenile correctional facilities, have been the sites of a long list of documented violations of prisoners’ rights, and students have been protesting the FAU stadium naming deal since it was announced in February, staging public demonstrations and referring to the new stadium as “Owlcatraz.” The university, however, had until yesterday given GEO and the deal vocal public support, insisting that it would go forward.
(Just to get it out of the way, this was not an April Fool’s Day prank. The deal’s end was reported yesterday in multiple local news outlets in stories sourced to GEO, and a press release confirming it appears on the FAU website.)
A few things stand out about yesterday’s announcement:
First, the decision to terminate the stadium naming arrangement came from — or at least was announced by — GEO, not FAU, even though the university was the primary target of the protests and might reasonably be viewed as having more to lose in terms of public reputation. It appears that FAU was willing to continue to be associated with GEO, but not vice versa. Which means, in short, that it proved easier to shame a private prison than a public university. Worth noting.
Second, this was an unqualified victory for student protest. It was the ongoing student opposition to the deal that rendered it untenable. The chair of the FAU board of trustees was defending GEO as recently as Friday, but the student organizing against it showed no sign of letting up.
Third, the end of the stadium deal means the end of the donation, or most of it. The original arrangement called for a donation of six million dollars in the form of twelve annual $500,000 payments. GEO said yesterday that the first of those payments would go forward.
GEO stock has risen some ten percent since the announcement of the deal.