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Washington Gov. Inslee Signs Law Shutting Down For-Profit Prisons, Immigration Centers

— April 15, 2021

The recently-passed measure would also close down one of the country’s largest for-profit immigration detention centers by 2025.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill that will shut down one of the Pacific state’s largest for-profit prisons.

According to The Associated Press, the Washington Legislature recently approved a measure that would ban for-profit detention centers across the state. However, there is only one facility in Washington that meets the bill’s criteria: the Northwestern Detention Center, near Tacoma.

Operated by the controversial GEO Group, the 1,575-bed immigration detention center is among the largest for-profit jails in the United States.

“Washington has not supported use of private prisons, and this bill continues that policy by prohibiting private detention facilities from operating in the state,” Gov. Inslee said in a statement.

Washington, notes The Associated Press, is now one of several states which have passed acts intended to curb the use and proliferation of corporate jailers.

Although states such as California, Nevada, and New York have similar prohibitions in effect, Washington is only the third state—after California and Illinois—to ban private immigration facilities, too.

In late March, Washington state Sen. Jeannie Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat, explained the Legislature’s reasoning.

Image via AlexVan.Pixabay. (CCA-BY-0.0). Public domain.

“Most for-profit prisons operate a cost cutting scenario because they are beholden to stakeholders,” Darneille said. “These cost cutting measures often include reduced wages [and] benefits for workers, and poor health care and food quality.”

Matt Adams, legal director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, told the Associated Press that civil immigration detention is among the biggest problems in America’s modern legal system.

“Widespread civil immigration detention is one of the greatest miscarriages of justice that currently exists in our political system,” Matt Adams wrote in an email. “The enactment of this bill is an important step towards rejecting the privatization and profiteering model of immigration detention centers that has pushed the massive expansion of immigration detention.”

However, The Associated Press predicts that the law will face legal resistance from GEO Group and its allies.

While Washington’s new law is not slated to take effect until 2025, GEO has filed lawsuits against other states which had sought to drive the company out.

In California, for instance, the GEO Group filed a lawsuit against a 2019 bill limiting the use of privately-operated immigration detention centers. Even though a California judge largely sided with the state, GEO appealed the ruling; it now awaits another determination by the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

KUOW-NPR notes that, in January, the Biden administration issued a directive instructing the Department of Justice to not renew any of its contracts with for-profit prison companies. However, Biden’s directive did not cover immigration detention centers, and it appears the White House—paradoxically—cast its support behind GEO in its efforts to challenge state-level laws against its presence.


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Washington state governor OKs bill banning for-profit jails

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