Activists broadcast Aurora GEO prison inmate complaints live at press conference

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AURORA | Jennifer Piper held a phone to her ear outside the GEO Group Inc. immigration detention center in Aurora Monday morning. On the other end, detainee after detainee recounted conditions inside the facility ranging from spider bites to wet laundry. 

Piper, an organizer for the American Friends Service Committee, hooked the phone up to an amplifier so a handful of reporters and about a dozen advocates could also hear the stories allegedly happening inside facility a few hundred feet away.

“There’s a lot of people in here who need medical attention,” one of the detainees said over the phone call. “They are from different parts of the country and different parts of the world, and so people have different health care. Health care here is nonexistent to tell you the truth. You have to see a doctor for everything, and there are only two or three doctors that come in whenever they want to come in.” 

The man, and many others who spoke from inside the facility, said it can take around two weeks to get needed medical attention. Another detainee said he fell from the top of a bunk bed and was only given Advil for a hurt wrist and ribs, and that the fall happened so long ago he should not need more medical attention.

GEO officials declined to comment on specific complaints, but said the company is committed to providing medical services to detainees and operates around the clock to offer those services.

Piper warned the crowd that the news conference might end short if GEO Group employees realized the phone call was being directed right outside to a news conference. When the call ended, it was because detainees said the phone calls are expensive. 

One detainee complained there are a lot of spiders in the facility and some of the detainees end up with infected spider bites. Another detainee said laundry is often returned smelling bad and still wet. There is nowhere to hang and dry laundry, he said. Expensive food at the cantina — a dollar for a power soup mix — and not having enough food at meals, were among other complaints the detainees reported.

Similar previous reports from inside the detention center contributed to Aurora Congressman Jason Crow’s effort to seek more oversight inside the detention center. 

He and his staff have been conducting weekly tours and keeping detailed records of what they see and are told about the facility that week.

“It’s clear that ICE has fallen down on the job and refuses to take responsibility for immigrants in its care. The conditions in these detention centers are appalling and an affront to our American values and the dignity of all people,” Crow said in a statement announcing his oversight tours in July. “While we wait for Mitch McConnell to pass legislation and hold ICE accountable, we are launching a boots on the ground effort to fill the gaps of oversight. We must exhaust every avenue to find a solution.”

In the latest report published by Crow’s office, on Aug. 5, there were 1,190 detainees in the facility. The report said GEO Group is “currently recruiting for one of two physician assistant positions and that nurse vacancies are being back filled with temporary staff.”

GEO officials have consistently denied serious or systemic problems at the facility.

“We recognize the majority of our residents would prefer to be outside the processing center but while the immigration and legal processes run their course, we’re committed to protecting those entering the facility and ensuring they are provided high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe, secure, and humane environments, and are treated with compassion, dignity and respect,” the GEO Group spokesperson said. “GEO’s medical program at the facility provides 24/7 medical services; is supported by a team of approximately 50 medical positions that include a full-time physician, a full-time physician’s assistant, a cadre of nursing services, dentist, psychologist, psychiatrists as well as referrals to local community hospitals as needed; and is fully accredited by the American Correctional Association and the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare.”