On February 14, 2022, we filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on behalf of the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California against the U.S. Marshals Service, seeking information about communications among the Marshals Service, the City of McFarland, California, and the GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based private prison company that runs the 770-bed Western Region Detention Facility in San Diego.
As part of an effort to reduce mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color, one of President Biden’s first official acts was to issue an executive order forbidding the Department of Justice’s renewal of contracts with private companies that run federal detention facilities.
GEO’s contract to run the San Diego facility was set to expire on Sept. 30, 2021. However, despite the Executive Order, the company announced last year that it received a six-month extension on its contract. Meanwhile, the company has schemed to keep its operations and profits by suggesting the U.S. Marshals Service enter into an agreement with the City of McFarland, a town with less than 12,500 residents and more than 250 miles north of San Diego, to operate the facility. McFarland would then subcontract the operations right back to GEO. This would allow GEO to continue operating the Western Region Detention Facility without interruption.
With the end of the six-month contract extension approaching on March 31, 2022, the ACLU submitted FOIA requests with the Marshals Service on October 25, 2021, and January 7, 2022, seeking documents related to the September contract extension and any renewal being considered when the current contract expires, and any communications among the Marshals Service, the Department of Justice, GEO, and the City of McFarland. The Marshals Service has provided no information in response to these requests.
If the contract for the Western Region facility is allowed to continue, the GEO-McFarland scheme would not only likely violate the president’s executive order, it would allow a private prison company to again recruit a cash-strapped municipality to exert influence over incarceration policies in a far-off city, where the incarceration and its community impacts will actually occur.
The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to enable the people to know what their government is up to. The people have a right to know whether the City of McFarland and GEO are trying to evade President Biden’s Executive Order, and whether the U.S. Marshals Service knows about that scheme and is complicit in it.