California to End Its Use of Private, For-Profit Prisons

California will ban the use of for-profit, private detention facilities, including those under contract to the federal government to hold immigrants awaiting deportation hearings, under a bill that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Friday.

Newsom said the measure helps fulfill a promise he made to end private prison use, which he said contributes to over-incarceration and does "not reflect our values."

The state's prison system was already phasing them out, despite having to comply with an inmate population cap imposed by federal judges.

Immigrant advocates have praised the bill authored by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, which they said would put an end to almost all immigration detention in California in the next year.

“We are glad and we’re happy. We worked with many organizations to push for an end to private prisons and detention centers in California, and we call it a win,” said Adriana Castro from the American Friends Service Committee.

However, one private prison company said it expects most if not all of the law would fail a legal challenge, particularly requiring the federal government to end its contracts.

"States cannot lawfully pass legislation mandating the closure of federal facilities that displease them on the basis of ideological differences," The Geo Group of Adelanto, California, said in a statement.

Some activists added that private, for-profit prisons have contracts with the federal government, not the state government, so the bill probably won't affect facilities like Otay Mesa Detention Center run by CoreCivic.

They said they worried loopholes will keep private facilities open, despite the new law.

California has been at the forefront of resisting President Donald Trump's efforts to deport those who are in the country illegally and has a so-called "sanctuary state" law that restricts police from asking people about their immigration status or participating in federal immigration enforcement actions.

The new measure prohibits the state corrections department from renewing contracts starting next year and from housing any state inmates in private, for-profit prisons starting in 2028.

"We are sending a powerful message that we vehemently oppose the practice of profiteering off the backs of Californians in custody," Bonta said.

ICE's acting press secretary, Bryan Cox, said immigration enforcement would still take place, noting that California accounts for less than 10 percent of the agency's detention capacity. He said the impact "would be felt primarily by residents of California who would theoretically have to travel greater distances to visit friends and family in custody."

Four dedicated immigration detention facilities remain in California with an average daily population of about 3,700 detainees. ICE has previously said the largest one, run by The Geo Group in Adelanto, California, has a temporary contract set to expire in 2020, as does another facility in Bakersfield, California.

The state's inmate population has been declining under several measures easing criminal sentences approved by voters and state lawmakers in recent years. Inmates housed in private prisons now make up less than 1% of the prisons' overall 125,000 inmate population.

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