GEO posted the opening for a Lead Correctional Officer at Hudson Correctional Facility on its website on May 11. The job posting is significant, because it may indicate that GEO plans to reopen the facility in order to house immigrant detainees, a development that immigration-rights advocates and civil-rights lawyers have long feared.
"That would be a phenomenally bad idea. We think GEO has a long track record of abuse and mismanagement of detention facilities holding ICE detainees, and they shouldn't be awarded an even bigger contract," says Liz Jordan, an attorney who advocates on behalf of detainees through the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center.
Asked about a possible reopening of the facility, GEO vice president Pablo Paez replied via email, "There’s no such contract with any entity," adding that the "lease is set to expire at year-end."
Paez's statements came in response to a first round of questions that Westword sent on May 30, which did not mention the job listing. Soon after Paez replied the next morning, the job listing was no longer online. Westword then sent Paez a screenshot of the original job posting; within hours, the listing was back up.
Immigration-rights advocates and civil-rights lawyers have worried that GEO and ICE would extend their immigration detention footprint to the dormant facility in Hudson, a town with a population of just 1,600. GEO's ad for a position at the prison comes at a time when ICE is in need of space for detainees across the country.
GEO still leases the Hudson facility from Highlands REIT, a Chicago-based real estate trust; the company also operates Colorado's main immigration detention facility in Aurora through a contract with ICE. That facility expanded its bed count by over 400 earlier this year, when it received the go-ahead from the federal government to move into an annex that had been dormant for years. The Aurora complex's current capacity is 1,532.
In April, GEO and ICE agreed to keep the annex open for another year "due to the surge of illegal aliens crossing the Southwest border," according to an internal document stating the justification for the contract. The Aurora facility has been back in the news recently following the publication of a report about how staff there handled the demise of a detainee.
ICE declined to comment on whether it was planning to operate a new immigrant detention facility in Hudson with GEO, noting that "to maintain the integrity of the contracting process, ICE does not discuss contracts that may be in negotiation." The Hudson property can house up to 1,250 detainees.
When it opened in 2009, the Hudson Correctional Facility served as a prison for inmates from Alaska. Back then, the town of Hudson saw the prison's opening as a win for the economy. A KUNC story from that time characterized the facility as "a welcome economic boost" for Hudson.
But the prison's introduction into the community wasn't an entirely smooth process. Pollutants from the prison's water disrupted operations at the Hudson water treatment plant, costing the city tens of thousand of dollars. The Environmental Protection Agency ended up stepping in and fining GEO for the pollution and other problems caused at the treatment facility.
The Hudson Correctional Facility wasn't a prison for long. The contract for the Alaskan inmates ended in 2013.
The Hudson facility appears to have been staffed minimally since it closed six years ago; in recent months, GEO posted a separate job listing for a Correctional Officer there. But the listed duties of that position primarily focused on groundskeeping, duties that made sense for an empty prison with a lease that was set to run out at the end of the year.
However, the listed duties for the Lead Correctional Officer position at Hudson posted on May 11 are the same as those included in a help-wanted post for a similar position at the Aurora detention facility. They include overseeing and monitoring the activities of detainees, coordinating detainee movements, and conducting shakedowns for contraband materials.
Guy Patterson, the Hudson city manager, says that he has been in communication with representatives of Highlands REIT, but that the town is not privy to any negotiations between GEO and ICE.
Although Hudson has other development projects in the works, Patterson says the town would welcome the return of an operational prison. "There's no doubt it's a big deal," he explains. "There's no doubt that it's a part of the community. And there's no doubt that high-paying good jobs are better than low-paying bad jobs."