Senator Durazo, Commissioner Lara’s Legislation to Protect Health and Safety of Immigrants in Private, For-Profit Detention Facilities and Prisons Passes Assembly Insurance Committee

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Today, Senator María Elena Durazo’s (D-Los Angeles) legislation 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 was approved by the California Assembly Insurance Committee. The bill is sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA), and the California Immigrant Policy Center. 

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 annual compliance reports regarding these requirements to both the insurance company and commissioner’s office. 
 
“We must hold private detention centers and prisons to the same health and safety standards that we’ve set for public facilities in California,” said Senator Durazo. “The pandemic has only exacerbated the impact of the lack of health protections for those in custody in these facilities. This bill will help to ensure that the people held in private detention centers are treated with a basic level of dignity and respect.”

“These for-profit facilities have a long and well-documented history of violating immigrants’ human rights, turning a blind eye to their physical and mental health,” said Commissioner Lara. “Raising insurance standards will help hold private detention centers accountable to protect refugees and asylum seekers.”

Private, for-profit detention facilities have had a horrific history of poor conditions and inhumane treatment of detainees that have led to 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 CHIRLA. “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.”

"SB 334 will ensure the health, safety, and human rights of vulnerable immigrant detainees. Substandard conditions have plagued these facilities, where minimum health and safety standards have continually been violated," said Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated the atrocious and substandard conditions in these facilities, raising the level of danger detainees are exposed to inside. 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, with at least two major outbreaks within the population, including one of the first major outbreaks from a private detention facility that led to 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 the poor conditions inside 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.

# # #