California Just Banned Private Prisons, Including ICE Detention Facilities

The Mesa Verde facility costs taxpayers $119.95 per detainee per day for the first 320 people detained there, according to an advocacy group
The Mesa Verde facility costs taxpayers $119.95 per detainee per day for the first 320 people detained there, according to an advocacy group

California just passed a bill banning all for-profit prisons and immigrant detention facilities in the state, the Guardian reports — and some of these facilities could be gone as early as next year.

Bill AB32, passed Wednesday and heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for signing, would shut down private facilities that hold inmates with criminal convictions. More than 2,200 people were held in such facilities as of June, according to data from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics data reviewed by the Guardian. It would also shutter privately run facilities for immigrants, who are considered civil detainees despite being held in prison-like conditions.


Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who introduced the bill, said in February that the inclusion of immigrant detention facilities wasn’t meant as a jab at President Trump or his immigration policies. Instead, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, it was a stand against companies that “only care about the almighty dollar.”

There are currently four privately operated immigrant detention centers in California. Two of them — the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield and the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino — are run by the GEO Group, one of the biggest private prison companies in the country. Together, the two GEO Group-run facilities can hold up to 1,940 people.

According to the nonprofit organization Freedom for Immigrants, Mesa Verde costs taxpayers $119.95 per detainee per day for the first 320 people detained there, while Adelanto costs $111.92 per detainee per day for the first 1,455 people detained there. GEO makes less money after it hits a certain threshold of detainees at each facility, according to the group.

Both of GEO’s immigrant detention contracts are set to expire next year.

“My understanding is AB32 would prevent new contracts for these facilities,” Hamid Yazdan Panah, an immigration attorney and the regional director for the Northern California Rapid Response & Immigrant Defense Network, told the Guardian. “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.”


Two other facilities, the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Calexico, are operated by CoreCivic and the Management and Training Corporation, respectively. The Imperial facility can hold up to 704 people, and the Otay Mesa detention center has a capacity of 896. CoreCivic’s contract also expires next year.

Reports by government watchdogs have exposed reports of abuse and mistreatment at these facilities. A 2018 report by the DHS inspector general, for example, found a number of “significant health and safety risks” at the Adelanto facility, where detainees often had to wait “weeks and months” to see a doctor and were put in solitary confinement for minor infractions.

GEO Group and CoreCivic have contracts for operating the majority of ICE's detention facilities across the U.S.

Immigrant detention facilities in general have come under public scrutiny in the past year with the Trump administration’s focus on immigration and policies that led to crowded conditions. As of June this year, about 52,000 migrants were held in ICE custody, and around 71% of them are housed in facilities operated by private prison companies, according to and NPR report citing the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Cover: In this Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019, photo detainees talk on the phones at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in Adelanto, Calif. The facility is a privately operated immigration detention center run by the GEO Group, which can house up to about 1900 total immigrant detainees, both male and female. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)