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Lawsuits & Litigation

GEO Group Sues California Over State Law Banning Private Prisons

— January 2, 2020

A spokesperson for Gov. Newsom said it’s not California’s fault that federal immigration authorities rely on third-party contractors when they can just do the job themselves.

GEO Group, among the largest for-profit prison companies in the United States, is suing California.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the challenge was lodged in U.S. District Court in San Diego on Monday. At issue is Assembly Bill 32, state legislation which effectively prohibits corrections corporations from receiving government contracts within California.

GEO Group claims that the purpose of Assembly Bill 32 is to undermine federal immigration enforcement. It specifically targets Gov. Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, alleging that AB32 intends to “eliminate the congressionally funded and approved enforcement of federal criminal and immigration law.”

If Assembly Bill 32 takes effect, it’ll affect at least 10 privately managed prisons and immigration detention facilities in California. In total, the 10 facilities contain nearly 11,000 beds.

A 2013 image of current California Gov.–then Attorney General–Gavin Newsom. Image via Flickr/user:JD Lasica. (CCA-BY-2.0).

GEO Group, notes the L.A. Times, operates seven of those centers.

Assembly Bill 32 would prohibit changes to existing detention contracts and the tendering of any new ones. In their lawsuit, the GEO Group calls the legislation a “transparent attempt by the state to shut down the federal government’s detention efforts within California’s borders,” as well as a “direct assault on the supremacy of federal law.”

A spokesperson for GEO said it’s unconstitutional for a state to regulate either the actions of the federal government or its contractors.

“To be clear, we play no role in passing immigration laws and we have never taken a position on immigration policies, whether it be the length of stay at immigration processing centers or the outcome of immigration proceedings,” a GEO spokesperson said. “As a service provider to the government, our only mission is to provide top-rated services to those entrusted to our care as they go through their immigration proceedings.”

However, a common criticism of for-profit detention centers—levied against the GEO Group and its competitors, like CoreCivic—is that they often fail to provide anything even resembling “top-rated services.” Earlier this year, Southern Poverty Law Center attorney Laura Rivera blasted GEO’s presence in Washington state, saying they’re “horribly understaffed.” GEO’s also attracted controversy for borderline cruel practices, such as holding inmates with histories of mental illness in prolonged solitary confinement.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Newsom said that the kinds of practices and business strategies imposed by companies like GEO run contrary to California values.

“As our office previously stated, for-profit prisons, including ICE-contracted facilities, run contrary to our values and have no place in California,” spokeswoman Vicky Waters said. “Gov. Newsom signed AB 32 earlier this year to phase them out.”

California Assemblyman Bob Bonta (D-Alameda) said it’s not the state’s problem that ICE relies on third-party contractors to build and maintain its facilities. Bonta pointed out that ICE, in fact, owns and operates its own facilities in other parts of the country—and that there’s no reason it can’t do the same in California.

“ICE has made the choice to contract with private corporations and not build their own facilities,” he said. “They can’t subject us to corporations that cut corners and abuse and neglect people.”


Ask The Indy: What we know about the GEO Group and its Aurora ICE Processing Center

Firm sues California over law banning private prisons and immigration detention centers

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