“Corey Atchison smiles as he is freed from the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center after being declared innocent in a 1991 murder case, in Tulsa, Okla., on July 16. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World/AP)”
By Deon Osborne, Senior Staff Writer
Mass incarceration and immigrant detention are two sides of the same coin. Profit motives and white supremacy drive both of these undemocratic institutions.
When Corey Atchison walked out of the Tulsa County Jail in late July, 28 years after being imprisoned for a crime eyewitness then and now said he didn’t commit, the local media emphasized his gratitude at being free and his noble pursuit of a job. Yet, virtually no attention was given to the white supremacist legal system that perpetuates wrongful convictions and mass incarceration disproportionately on African American communities.
And as President Trump attempts to allow the long-term detention of immigrant children by overriding the federal court settlement that required a limit on how long immigrant children can be detained, private companies continue to profit from the meager resources they offer this fascist intuition.
Geo Group continues to amass a fortune by dabbling in both private prisons and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing centers.
Content with operating outside of public view, in recent years Geo Group has come under intense scrutiny for unsafe conditions leading to a string of gang-related fights and lockdowns at the Lawton Correctional Facility, Geo Group’s largest private prison in Oklahoma.
Despite investigations of torture-like practices, lockdowns that span for weeks at a time, chronic understaffing and other contract violations, the state went ahead with renewing a 5-year contract in 2018 worth an increased 2.8 million dollars for Geo Group.
With the knowledge that Oklahoma’s incarceration rate is nearly twice as high as the national rate, one would expect radical reforms to reverse this stain on democracy.
But despite minuscule criminal justice reform efforts from the Oklahoma legislature, the state stands as the world’s largest incarcerator per capita within a country that claims to idolize freedom.
Moreover, Geo Group has made more than $100,000 in political campaign contributions to Oklahoma candidates since 2014.
While disparities exist in poor, rural white and Native communities as well, Oklahoma imprisons black men at a higher rate than any other state, highlighting the white supremacy at the heart of this system.
Meanwhile, social workers have reported to the Tulsa County Sheriff and County Commissioners on numerous occasions how criminalizing immigration status has led to abuse victims being afraid to come forward. By choosing fear-mongering over facts, state and local leaders are complicit in allowing the silent predation of an entire community.
Geo Group has been sued for at least one death at its private immigration center in Aurora, Colorado, despite immigration violations being a civil penalty—not a criminal penalty. 64-year-old Iranian man Kamyar Samimi died days after entering the Aurora detention facility.
An investigative report found that Geo Group provided inadequate medical care, violating federal and ICE standards.
When the same U.S. company profits from the mass incarceration of black and brown Americans and the war-like detainment of brown immigrants, one must acknowledge the fact that our society holds capital and whiteness far above freedom and opportunity for all.
Thanks to his attorney, Corey Atchison was able to join his brother, who was also freed on a wrongful conviction. But what about the other scores of African American men and women who sit in a prison cell for either bogus or trumped-up charges, while their children are forced to navigate their communities without direction?
Trauma placed on an entire generation of children will fester for generations to come, regardless of the type of institution that created it.
Immigrants and African Americans have shared goals: freedom and opportunity.
When we begin to feel each others’ pain, we can form alliances that block the intersection of white supremacy and capitalism, and navigate a new route toward a more socially equitable democracy.
Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has written for OU’s student newspaper the OU Daily as well as OKC-based Red Dirt Report. Deon received the Governor’s Commendation in 2017 for his videography highlighting a statewide distracted driving prevention program and runs a freelance video marketing service at indepthwithdeonfilms.com. He now lives in Tulsa, where he works as a policy intern at the Oklahoma Policy Institute.