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Federal Judge Says California’s Ban On Private Prisons Can Move Forward

A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., Ju...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.

A federal judge in San Diego is set to allow parts of California’s ban on private prisons to move forward.

District Court Judge Janis Sammartino said in court on Thursday morning she was preparing to issue a ruling that would let California’s law, which halts all new contracts for private prisons in the state, to continue while a lawsuit against it winds through the courts.

Listen to this story by Max Rivlin-Nadler.

The bill, known as AB 32, banned all private prisons in the state, including immigrant detention facilities. It went into effect Jan. 1 and the lawsuit against it was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and the private detention company The Geo Group.

California’s law was likely constitutional, Sammartino said, but private facilities used by the US Marshals for pre-trial detainees could be exempted from it.

Opponents of private detention in the state say those facilities have consistently failed to provide safety and medical support to detainees, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.

RELATED: Immigrant Advocates Try To Deliver Masks To Otay Mesa Detention Center

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler , Video by Roland Lizarondo

Nikki Marquez, an attorney with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, said that the judge understood the aims of California’s law.

“This law, AB 32, it is not about immigration enforcement. It’s about protecting the health and safety and human lives of Californians that are in detention,” she said in a post-hearing press conference.

Before the hearing, former ICE detainee Humberto Hernandez spoke about his treatment last year at the Adelanto Processing Center, which is operated by the Geo Group.

“Medical access is very limited. It takes weeks just to get any medical help," he said. "Adelanto and Geo cut down on costs in any way they can, and medical help is one of them. It took me over three weeks just to see a doctor for a skin condition, and I can’t imagine what it’s like now, during COVID-19.”

AB 32 allowed facilities to continue to operate if they had existing contracts with the state, but they would not be allowed to extend those contracts.

Shortly before the law took effect, Immigration and Customs Enforcement rushed to extend the contracts for four facilities, including the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which houses ICE detainees. Its current contract was set to expire in 2023.

As litigation continues, advocates say they’re looking to invalidate those contracts as violating AB 32.

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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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