Jamaica Jail Prompted Private Prison Prohibition Bill, But Would Go Unscathed

By David Brand

A new Assembly bill that would prohibit the operation of private prisons on state property will have no impact on New York City’s lone private jail, a facility located amid an industrial zone in Jamaica.

The Private Prison Elimination Act would prohibit the state from leasing or granting state-owned property to be used for the operation of private correctional facilities. The bill was inspired by stories of abuse inside the Queens Detention Facility, a spokesperson for bill sponsor Ari Espinal, a Corona assembly member, told the Queens Daily Eagle.

But the jail is located on private property and will not be affected by the bill, a reality that has frustrated Espinal.

“It is unconscionable that here in Queens we have a for-profit prison like the Queens Detention Facility,” Espinal said. “Moving forward, my legislation will ensure that New York State isn’t complicit in the abuses and greed of the for-profit prison industry, and instead committed to a criminal justice system focused on what is best for New Yorkers and our communities.”

The Queens Detention Facility is operated by GEO Group, the world’s second largest private prison company, and contracts with the U.S. Marshals to detain about 210 immigrants awaiting trial. The Florida-based GEO Group detains more than 75,000 people in 71 correctional facilities across the country, according to its website.

The site currently houses approximately 210 detainees who await trial while in the custody of the Department of Justice, City Limits reported in June.

The jail was formerly used by immigration officials to detain undocumented immigrants awaiting deportation.

GEO Group is the defendant in three lawsuits in State Supreme Court, including one in Queens Supreme Court. In that case, plaintiff Joel Vasquez alleges that a heavy volleyball net stanchion fell on his foot and caused “severe personal injury.”

In 2012, the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center uncovered “a horrifying pattern of abuse against juveniles and the mentally ill in two Mississippi prisons operated by the GEO Group.” Their ensuing lawsuits prompted the Mississippi Department of Corrections to terminate its contracts with GEO Group, though the agency sought contracts with other private prison corporations.

In a statement at the time, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James said private prisons are incentivized to spend less on services for inmates and wages for staff in order to collect higher more profits.

“Private prisons like the Queens Detention Facility are rooted in an industry that capitalizes on the maltreatment of our inmates,” James said.

Espinal said her bill is designed to address mass incarceration and get private companies out of the prison industry.

“We must take preventive measures in New York State to make sure that these greedy and opportunistic companies stay out of New York,” Espinal said. “Mass incarceration is a national crisis, and we must take action to eliminate practices and companies that benefit from it.”

The Queens Detention Facility, NYC’s lone private prison, would not be affected by an Assembly bill designed to prohibit private prisons.// Google Maps