Governor signs bill phasing out use of private prisons, including some in Kern County

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Gavin Newsom

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a news conference Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Sacramento, Calif. Newsom signed sweeping labor legislation that aims to give wage and benefit protections to rideshare drivers at companies like Uber and Lyft and to workers across other industries. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGET) — Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed a bill phasing out the use of all private prisons in the state, including immigrant detention facilities. 

Assembly Bill 32 will bar the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from entering into or renewing contracts with private prisons after Jan. 1 and will prevent California from holding inmates in for-profit facilities starting by 2028. 

“During my inaugural address, I vowed to end private prisons, because they contribute to over-incarceration, including those that incarcerate California inmates and those that detain immigrants and asylum seekers,” Newsom said in a news release. “These for-profit prisons do not reflect our values.”

The bill will affect some prisons in Kern County, such as the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield as well as McFarland’s Golden State Modified Community Correctional Facility and Female Community Reentry Facility. 

The state’s pullout is already in the works in Kern County. Last month, the CDCR ended its contract with the McFarland prison. Prison owner GEO Group Inc. announced it is laying off around 130 employees as of Nov. 16.

Inmates from private prisons across the state are expected to be transferred to other facilities in the state.

“In GEO’s view, much if not all of AB 32 would be found unlawful by the courts,” the company said in a statement on Friday. “In particular, we believe the restrictions to force a phase-out of federal detention facilities under private management run afoul of the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. States cannot lawfully pass legislation mandating the closure of federal facilities that displease them on the basis of ideological differences.”

GEO Group operates 133 facilities and employs about 23,000 people.

ICE Spokeswoman Paige Hughes said the organization’s legal experts are reviewing the legislation, which could have a significant impact on families of detainees. 

“In this situation, ICE will likely have to transfer individuals a greater distance from their arrest location to where they’d be detained,” she said in a statement. “Policy makers who strive to make it more difficult to remove dangerous criminal aliens and aim to stop the cooperation of local officials and business partners harm the very communities whose welfare they have sworn to protect.”

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