Two weeks ago the private prison corporation Geo Group added yet another former government official to its inner circle. On July 2 Geo Group’s management voted unanimously to expand their board of directors to seven seats, adding Julie Myers Wood. From 2006 to 2008 Wood was the Department of Homeland Security assistant secretary in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.
Wood is now the second member of Geo Group’s inner circle to have been employed by ICE. Geo Group’s executive vice president for corporate development, David Venturella, was an executive within ICE for 22 years before joining Geo Group in 2012.
Of course ICE is a major customer of Geo Group. Geo Group’s federal prison contracting began in 1987 when ICE signed a deal with the company to build and operate an immigrant prison in Colorado called the Aurora ICE Processing Center. Later this year Geo Group will open a new 400 bed immigrant “transfer center” in Louisiana. ICE will pay Geo Group $8.5 million a year to hold detainees in this prison.
Some might remember Julie Myers Wood for presiding over an infamous Halloween costume party at ICE’s Washington D.C. headquarters in 2007. Some ICE employees dressed up as immigrant fugitives. Wood awarded the best costume prize to an ICE employee who donned a dread lock wig and blackface paint, explaining to amused colleagues that he was a Jamaican detainee who had escaped from ICE’s Krome prison near Miami. Wood was accused by the House Committee on Homeland Security of exercising “poor judgement” when she rewarded the employee for the costume, and also of covering up the incident afterward when she ordered the deletion of pictures. The pictures included a photo of her smiling next to the make-believe Jamaican immigrant prisoner. (The pictures were later recovered.)
Other top Geo Group managers provide natural links to the other federal branch of government that contracts out prison facility construction and operations work: the Justice Department’s Federal Bureau of Prisons. Geo Group director Norman Carlson was the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons for 17 years before retiring in 1987. John Hurley, Geo Group’s senior vice president for corrections and detention was a warden in the Federal Bureau of Prisons for 26 years. Today Geo Group operates multiple Department of Justice prisons housing federal inmates.
Julie Myers Wood’s recent appointment to the Geo Group’s board of directors also connects Geo Group to new corners of the private security industry. After her brief and controversial term running ICE, Wood, as is now the custom among top federal officials, set up her own consulting firm in 2012, ICS, LLC. ICS stands for “Immigration and Customs Solutions.” Wood’s consulting shop was then bought by GuidePost Solutions, a large private security consulting firm that was already doing business with the Geo Group through a consulting agreement with B.I., Inc., a Geo Group subsidiary that specializes in providing electronic ankle bracelet monitors and other surveillance equipment to track prisoners and parolees.
GuidePost Solutions has become a repository of revolving door law enforcement figures. Among the influential executives at GuidePost Solutions is former prosecutor and Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani is also a named partner at the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm, the same firm where Anne Foreman used to be an attorney. Anne Foreman is currently a director of the Geo Group, and former under secretary and lawyer for the Air Force.
Wood is also a member of the American Bar Association’s Commission on Immigration, and the executive committee chair of the Border Security Technology Consortium. The latter is an industry lobbying group comprised of companies that sell surveillance equipment and weapons to the Department of Homeland Security.
The world of private, for-profit prisons, border security contracting, and surveillance technology is quite small really. If you follow an individual’s professional network out a few degrees, it’s likely your search will boomerang back around to where you started. It’s personal relationships forged on corporate boards, and as government officials, that connect the growing private prison and surveillance industry to the current government officials and lawmakers who are in a position to award contracts.
For Wood, her new spot on Geo Group’s board will provide pay and stock awards valued at about $250,000 a year. Her connections to other private prison and surveillance companies and trade associations will strengthen Geo Group’s already formidable lobbying prowess and help the company to secure a bigger slice of the growing market for privatized prisons.
Darwin Bond-Graham is a sociologist and investigative journalist. He is a contributing editor to Counterpunch. His writing appears in the East Bay Express, Village Voice, LA Weekly and other newspapers. He blogs about the political economy of California at http://darwinbondgraham.wordpress.com/