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Private prison firm sues states over law banning private detention facilities

Posted at 6:17 PM, Dec 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-31 21:17:42-05

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A private prison firm is suing the state of California in San Diego federal court, arguing that a state law banning private detention facilities -- which goes into effect tomorrow -- is unconstitutional.

The GEO Group, Inc., a Florida-based corporation that owns private prisons, jail and detention facilities across the country, contends in court papers filed Monday that AB 32 will interfere with the federal government's enforcement of criminal and immigration law by banning the operation of private detention facilities within the state.

The law will prohibit the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from entering into new contracts for privately-owned detention facilities or renewing existing contracts at currently operating facilities starting Wednesday.

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By 2028, the law would bar all inmates from being held at privately owned facilities. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed AB 32 into law in October, is named as a defendant, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

The corporation seeks a declaration that AB 32 is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced against GEO Group, as well as declarations that its current contracts with the U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement within California remain valid.

"This transparent attempt by the state to shut down the federal government's detention efforts within California's borders is a direct assault on the supremacy of federal law, and it cannot stand,'' the lawsuit alleges. The GEO Group alleges in the lawsuit that

"AB 32 will impact at least 10 of the privately managed facilities totaling 10,925 beds, which represent the overwhelming majority of detention capacity held by the federal government in the state of California.''

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GEO manages seven of the privately managed facilities for the Marshals Service and ICE, totaling 5,727 beds, according to its court filing. The corporation, which secured two long-term multibillion-dollar contracts with ICE earlier this month covering five California facilities, claims AB 32 will trigger closures of the seven GEO-owned facilities in California, causing GEO to lose more than $4 billion over the next 15 years.

Locally, GEO runs the Western Region Detention Center in downtown San Diego, a maximum-security jail that houses 725 beds, with an average daily population of 676 detainees, according to the lawsuit. GEO claims AB 32 will force the corporation to close the jail when its contract with Marshals Service expires.

The current contract runs through late 2021, but allows the Marshals Service to extend the contract every two years until 2027. The Otay Mesa Detention Center, used jointly by the Marshals Service and ICE to house undocumented immigrants, is privately run by Tennessee-based CoreCivic.

GEO owns two of the state's four ICE detention centers. The Adelanto and Mesa Verde facilities are covered in the new contracts GEO signed this month with ICE, while three of GEO's correctional facilities in Adelanto and McFarland will be converted into ICE detention centers.