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Sanders leads march against fed prison

With chants of "Geo must go," the group took to the streets on Martin Luther King Day and wound its way from Springfield Park on 147th Avenue to the jail, located a few blocks away amid warehouses and trucking depots at 182-22 150th Avenue,But the business adjacent to the facility, which is run by the Florida-based Geo Group Inc. and houses inmates awaiting trial and sentencing, are not what concerns the protesters. It is the homes along 147th Avenue and the nearby school that local residents believe make 150th Avenue an inappropriate location for a jail."Geo is doing its best to convince people this is not a jail," said Sanders, standing in front of the nondescript building. "But it's here. And it sends the wrong message to our community."It was on Martin Luther King Day in 2006 that Sanders led a similar march against the jail, just days after its existence was made public. The facility had long housed detainees awaiting deportation, but when that operation was moved to Elizabeth, N.J. in 2005, area residents were under the impression the jail had closed.Geo, however, was apparently able to have its contract transferred from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau to the U.S. Marshals, which needed additional space to house inmates awaiting trial or sentencing in federal court in Brooklyn. The transfer of the contract was done without public knowledge and sparked outrage in the southeast Queens when it was revealed early in 2006.Originally, the Geo facility operated under a one-year contract that expired July 1, 2006 and was renewed for another year. Residents are now urging the federal government to relocate the jail. The contract comes up again at the end of June and Sanders urged the protesters Monday to send letters to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff demanding the closure of the prison, which currently houses about 200 inmates.Geo, however, owns an adjacent warehouse and had hoped to double its capacity before community pressure derailed the expansion. U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) said recently there is no indication that Geo has plans to revive its expansion plans. Meeks said he continues to monitor the situation at the federal level.Reach reporter Craig Giammona by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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