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california moves to ban private prisons, ice detention centers

September 13, 2019
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Known for its archaic three-strikes law that mandates a life sentence in prison for anyone convicted of three felonies, California has taken a huge leap forward by banning private prisons, ICE detention facilities included. Passed Wednesday and now making its way to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk, Bill AB32 would shut down the private facilities currently holding more than 2,200 people — which is already a dramatic drop from the 7,000 incarcerated Californians housed in private prisons in 2016.

Penned by Assemblymember Rob Bonta, Bill AB32 originally set out only to be applied to contracts between California’s prison authority and private, for-profit incarceration companies. In June, Bonta amended the bill to apply to the ICE agency’s main detention centers.

Approximately 1,940 people are held at two of the largest privately operated immigrant dentition centers in California, which are owned by CEO Group, one of the largest prison companies in the country. And that’s just how many people the facilities can hold — not how many they’re actually holding. The other two centers, operated by CoreCivic and the Management and Training Corporation, can hold up to 1,600 people.

Both CEO’s and CoreCivic’s contracts for immigration detention centers are set to expire next year. “My understanding is AB32 would prevent new contracts for these facilities,” said Panah Hamid Yazdan Panah, an immigration attorney and the regional director for the Northern California Rapid Response & Immigrant Defense Network. “The fact they’re on a one-year bridge, it won’t allow them to move from the one-year contract to a longer-term contract.”

With the implementation of President Trump’s anti-immigration policies and family separations and the subsequent wave of scrutiny over systematic child displacement, overcrowding, sexual abuse, and even deaths under ICE’s authority, immigrate rights activists and human rights watch groups have been crucial voices in the fight to eliminate ICE centers altogether. This bill is a promising victory.

“This legislation is the most powerful we’ve had. It’s a very big step,” said Lizbeth Abeln, of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “But we know Geo Group and Ice work in secrecy, and they work to circumvent contract laws, so we’re still monitoring things.”


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