Senator Durazo, Commissioner Lara Introduce Legislation to Protect Health and Safety of Immigrants in Private, For-Profit Detention Facilities and Prisons

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Today Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights that would require private, for-profit detention facilities and prisons operating in California to uphold basic health and safety standards for people being detained in these facilities.

SB 334, the Private Detention Accountability Act, would require for-profit detention facilities and prisons operating in California to meet and maintain insurance requirements including workers' compensation and liability, adhere to all appropriate state and local health, safety, fire and jail standards, and mandate that they obtain coverage from an admitted insurance carrier authorized to operate in California by the state’s Department of Insurance. In addition, facilities would be required to submit quarterly compliance reports regarding these requirements to both the insurance company and commissioner’s office, and insurance companies would be responsible for ensuring compliance with these requirements. Facilities that fail to meet minimum established state and federal detention, health, and safety standards that protect the medical needs, safety requirements, and human rights of immigrants would have their insurance coverage terminated.

“Private detention centers and prisons should be held accountable to the same health and safety standards that we’ve set as our baselines for operation for public facilities in California,” said Senator Durazo. “Conditions in private detention centers were inhumane before COVID-19, and the pandemic has revealed and made worse the lack of health protections for those in custody in these facilities. If these facilities can’t meet these basic standards, they should not be able to operate here.”

“The pandemic has compounded the dire conditions that immigrants have faced for years in for-profit detention centers and private prisons,” said Insurance Commissioner Lara. “SB 344 will shine a light on an industry that has profited from a broken immigration system, and it will enforce the basic dignity that every person in custody deserves.”

Private, for-profit detention facilities have had a horrific history of poor conditions and inhumane treatment of detainees that brought on devastating consequences for people detained in these facilities, with at least 15 immigrants having died in custody in California since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Enough is enough. Private detention centers are operating with impunity that must be stopped,” said Angelica Salas, Executive Director for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights. “The Private Detention Accountability Act seeks to reign in an industry that profits over the health of human beings. We are proud co-sponsors of this proposal because it provides accountability and recognizes the humanity of immigrants who are in private detention centers.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated these atrocious and substandard conditions in these facilities, raising the level of danger detainees are exposed to. On May 6, 2020, Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia, a detainee at Otay Mesa Detention Center, a for-profit detention facility in San Diego, became the first person in immigration custody nationwide to die from COVID-19. Otay Mesa Detention Center has been a hotspot for COVID-19 over the last year, with at least two major outbreaks within the population, including one of the first major outbreaks in these facilities which accounted for nearly 200 COVID-19 positive cases. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, federal courts have started to order the release of immigrant detainees who are at high risk of illness or death due to poor conditions in for-profit detention centers.

There are five private detention facilities contracted with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that continue to operate in California, including Adelanto, Imperial Regional, Mesa Verde, Otay Mesa and El Centro.

SB 334 would require for-profit detention facilities and prisons to adhere to the detention standards of care and confinement agreed upon in the facility’s contract for operations in addition to California’s minimum jail standards and all appropriate local and state building, zoning, health, safety, and fire standards.


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