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California Law Banning Private Prison Facilities Struck Down by Federal Court



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In October of 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill no. 32, which attempted to ban private immigration facilities and private detention centers. In a stance against the widely criticized US prison system, the bill would have prohibited the state of California from entering into any new contracts with private operators of detention centers.

In October of 2021, the federal appeals court struck down the bill which went into effect in January of 2020. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit found that the bill “conflicts with federal powers” and the discretion given to the Department of Homeland Security. The court, made up of three judges, ruled 2 to 1 against the California bill. The two Donald Trump-appointed judges ruled against the bill, while a Barack Obama-appointed judge ruled in favor.

Fueling the Movement to Ban Private Detention Center Operators

The ruling has been sent back to U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino in San Diego for further consideration. Private prisons have been a hot topic of debate over the past few years and even more recently surrounding conversations about racial injustices. California has taken a very progressive take on the topic of banning private prisons and immigration detention centers, but they’re not alone. Illinois, in June of 2019, also took action to ban private immigration detention centers.

Recent conflicts at the U.S.-Mexico border have led to increased criticism of immigration detention centers. Multiple accusations of harsh and inhumane treatment of migrant detainees have been made, yet these private operators are rarely held accountable. On top of that, many critics plead for the release of immigrant detainees from these facilities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Cramped confinement and poor sanitary conditions of the facilities have led to large Coronavirus outbreaks among detainees.

The Uncertain Future of For-Profit Prisons

While this California bill has been temporarily struck down, similar bills originating in other states will likely continue to push back against private prison and detention center operators. Some of the largest operators of private prisons and detention centers, such as CoreCivic inc. and The Geo Group inc., have begun moving operations to more politically friendly states, such as Louisiana.

The issue and legality of private prison systems are likely to continue over the coming years as the Biden Administration takes more definitive action on the subject. President Joe Biden has been critical of private prisons and has also taken federal action to end contracts with private prison groups. The impact of these executive orders is still unknown and hotly debated.

The issue of private prisons and immigration centers will continue for the coming years. California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who sponsored the law banning private prisons and immigration centers, said, “while the road ahead may feel a little longer today, our work continues, and we will keep pushing forward.” This ruling may have set an impactful precedent for similar cases that head to federal courts as other states enact legislation to end for-profit private prisons and immigration centers. Though it’s clear advocates of ending private prisons will continue to fight and push for prison reform, and for now, the wind is at their backs with the Biden administration on their side.

Learn more about the issue of private prisons and immigration centers and how it could affect you and your loved ones, reach out to an immigration lawyer.

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