Governor Newsom Signs SB 334 to Protect the Health and Safety of Immigrants in Private, For-Profit Detention Facilities and Prisons

Friday, September 24, 2021

Today, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senator María Elena Durazo’s legislation SB 334 to 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. 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, requires 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 mandates that they obtain coverage from an admitted insurance carrier authorized to operate in California by the state’s Department of Insurance. In addition, facilities will be required to submit quarterly compliance reports regarding these requirements to both the insurance company and commissioner’s office. Insurance providers that provide coverage to these private for-profit detention facilities will be required to be admitted insurers in California. 

"Today California takes a huge step in holding private detention centers and prisons accountable for the health and safety of the people held in these facilities,” said Senator Durazo. “The conditions in these private detention centers have gone from bad to worse during the pandemic, and we can’t sit idly by while it happens. SB 334 will ensure that the people held in private detention centers are treated with a basic level of dignity and respect. Thank you to Governor Newsom for recognizing the urgency of this moment and signing SB 334 into law, and thank you to Commissioner Lara for your partnership and perseverance on this bill."

“I thank Governor Newsom for demonstrating his commitment to human rights by enacting SB 334, requiring private for-profit prisons and detention facilities to comply with all appropriate state and local health, safety, fire, and jail standards,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “I commend Senator Durazo for authoring this urgent and timely bill, a critical step in requiring accountability for these private, for-profit detention facilities and prisons. It is also the just and humane thing to do.”

"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 will allow our state to reign in an industry that profits over the health of human beings. We have been proud co-sponsors of this proposal because it provides accountability and recognizes the humanity of immigrants who are in private detention centers. We thank Governor Newsom for his leadership. By signing SB 334 into law he stands with us in saying enough is enough and demands transparency and dignity.”

"Addressing the lack of standards and accountability in private detention facilities is long overdue,” said Cynthia Buiza, Executive Director for the California Immigrant Policy Center. “The Private Detention Accountability Act (SB 334) is a critical step to help ensure the health, safety, and human rights of immigrants who are detained in these private facilities. We will continue to work towards a California where everyone can live freely and fully in their communities." 

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 will 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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