(TMU) — A landmark bill passed by California lawmakers could ban the use of private prisons in the state, including putting an end to immigrant detention centers operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that have long been plagued by lawsuits and accusations of “deplorable” conditions and rights abuses.
Assembly Bill 32 was passed by the California Sate Assembly Wednesday in a 65-11 vote, just one day after the state Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure.
The legislation is being hailed as a huge step toward criminal justice reform in a state that is teeming with prisons and has relied on private prisons to reduce overcrowding in state facilities.
Under the bill, which was authored by Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) would be prevented from entering into or renewing contracts with private prisons as soon as 2020. The legislation would also prevent the state from housing inmates in for-profit prisons beginning in 2028. California would also be prevented from sending prisoners to out-of-state for-profit facilities.
An exception recently added to the bill, however, would allow the CDCR to renew or extend contracts for housing state prison inmates “in order to comply with any court-ordered population cap.” Bonta added the exception to increase the chances that Governor Gavin Newsom would sign the bill, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The governor has voiced opposition to the use of private prisons in the past.
On Wednesday, Bonta tweeted:
“We are on the verge of creating historic and needed reform to end the use of for-profit, private prisons and for-profit, private civil detention centers in CA. People are not commodities!”
#AB32 has passed the Assembly and is now en route to Gov. @GavinNewsom’s desk! We are on the verge of creating historic and needed reform to end the use of for-profit, private prisons and for-profit, private civil detention centers in CA. People are not commodities! #CALeg pic.twitter.com/FFFBrtGSex
— Rob Bonta (@RobBontaCA) September 11, 2019
One company, GEO Group, operates four of the private prisons in California under a contract with the CDCR that expires in 2023 and cannot be renewed under AB32 unless it is needed to comply with the federal court meant to reduce crowding in California prisons.
While Bonta originally wrote the bill to apply to contracts between the prison authority and private prison companies, he amended the bill in June to apply to ICE’s four major detention centers in the state, where conditions have been described as “reprehensible” by the California Department of Justice.
Two of the largest immigrant jails in California—the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield and the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino—are operated by GEO Group through elaborate subcontracting arrangements using city governments as middlemen.
Lizbeth Abeln of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice told the Guardian:
“What ICE does is they locate in these very poor and remote areas.
The private prison comes in and lobbies and promises jobs, and tax money.”
VICE reports that according to data released by advocacy group Freedom for Immigrants, Mesa Verde costs taxpayers $119.95 per detainee, per day, for the first 320 people detained there, and Adelanto costs $111.92 per detainee per day for the first 1,455 people detained there. Once GEO Group hits a certain threshold of detainees at each facility, it makes less money.
No one should ever profit off the misery that is our mass incarceration system. https://t.co/AKeXwkh18O
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 13, 2019
The Adelanto facility run by GEO Group has been described as “the deadliest immigration center in the country” and has been the focus of various congressional, state, and federal inquiries along with major lawsuits. The most recent season of the popular HBO drama Orange Is The New Black was based in a facility modeled on Adelanto.
In July, Bonta said:
“We’ve all seen the current humanitarian crisis play out along the southern border. No human being deserves to be held in the horrific conditions we’ve been seeing in these for-profit, private facilities. It’s clearly not enough to focus our legislation on prisons alone.
We must address the complete scope of what’s going on in these Wall Street-run corporate detention facilities. California should not be home to companies that are profiteering from the tearing of innocent children from their families. This is inhumane and goes against who we are as Californians and Americans.”
ICE has declined to comment on the passage of the bill but ominously warned that state lawmakers are unable to bind “the hands of a federal law enforcement agency,” reports NBC News.
Bryan D. Cox, acting press secretary for ICE, told NBC:
“We don’t comment on pending legislation.
But any person under the impression that a state law in any way binds the hands of a federal law enforcement agency which manages a national network of detention facilities would be a false impression.”
The bill now heads to Newsom’s desk for his consideration, where he will have a month to either sign it into law or veto it.
Adelanto, the ICE facility that inspired the most recent season of Orange Is The New Black, has a documented history of abuse.
— Freedom for Immigrants (@MigrantFreedom) September 12, 2019