California Bans Private Prisons

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Photo by Elentir via Flickr

The private prison industry is set to be upended after California lawmakers passed a bill banning the facilities from operating in the state. The move will probably also close down four large immigration detention facilities that can hold up to 4,500 people at a time, The Guardian reports.

The legislation is being hailed as a major victory for criminal justice reform because it removes the profit motive from incarceration. It marks a dramatic departure from California’s past, when private prisons were relied on to reduce crowding in state-run facilities.

It has also become an issue in the 2020 election campaign, with many of the top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, vowing to eliminate private prisons.

Private prison companies used to view California as one of their fastest-growing markets. As recently as 2016, private prisons locked up approximately 7,000 Californians, about 5 percent of the state’s total prison population, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.

In recent years, thousands of inmates have been transferred from private prisons back into state-run facilities. As of June, private prisons held 2,222 of California’s total inmate population. Gov. Gavin Newsom said in his inaugural speech in January that the state should “end the outrage of private prisons once and for all.”

The Geo Group operates four private prisons in California under contract with the state. The contracts for these four prisons expire in 2023 and cannot be renewed under the new bill, except to comply with a federal court order to reduce crowding in state-run facilities.

The bill would force the immigration detention facilities to close next year. “I think Geo Group is realizing their scheme to circumvent state law is putting them in a place where they could end up being be nailed,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah of the Northern California Rapid Response & Immigrant Defense Network.

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