On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino issued a temporary order in favor of California over the Trump Administration and the private prison company GEO Group over the legality of the state’s January ban on for-profit prisons.
Private, for-profit prison to continue being phased out in California
While both the federal government and GEO Group initially filed separate lawsuits in the U.S. District Court for Southern District of California, Judge Sammartino combined them in yesterday’s digital remote ruling, as they both challenged the same law.
The temporary order now in place reconfirms that AB 32, an Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda) authored law that orders all private, for-profit prison in California to close by 2028, is legal. The order also means that the phased shutdowns of the 10 private prisons in California, 7 of which are operated by the GEO Group, can continue.
Bill analysis describes the real intent of AB 32: “This bill abolishes, in line with California’s interest in ensuring the safety and welfare of its residents, the private for-profit prison industry from our state in order to protect incarcerated individuals from serious harm within our state border,” as California Globe reported in March.
Both the federal Government and GEO Group allege that AB 32 actually aimed to stop the federal government from having ICE detention centers in California.
“AB 32 is a transparent attempt by the state to shut down the federal government’s detention efforts within California’s borders,” noted the GEO Group lawsuit.
Judge Sammartino, after hearing the case, gave a succinct ruling directly challenging this claim, saying that “[AB 32] does not unconstitutionally discriminate against the federal government or its contractors.”
ICE also targeted in trial
This had been the second loss for GEO Group this week in California after a Tuesday ruling by another U.S. District judge halted plans for GEO Group to convert two of it’s private prisons into ICE detention centers in central California.
On Tuesday, Geo when two of it’s private prisons it was planning to turn into ICE holding centers was temporarily put on hold by a judge
“California really does not want ICE here,” explained immigration attorney Miguel Escobar to the California Globe. “AB 32 was a clear message. Only the [Federal Government] didn’t want to back out of a state with a lot people coming up from Central America and GEO didn’t want to leave a lot of money on the table over this.”
“But federal judges are now saying that this is wrong and California is in the right. ICE and GEO didn’t want to face up to this reality, especially with a lot of their facilities not being the best run places.”
However, both the federal government and GEO Group have not given up yet. While Judge Sammartino has said that she will likely dismiss the case, she is allowing the case to continue.
Hundreds of millions of dollars, thousands of jobs on the line for GEO Group, Californian cities with prisons
“GEO has a quarter billion in contracts in California alone,” explained former prison consultant Earl Hayes Jr. in an interview with the Globe. “There are thousands of mostly minority jobs on the line at these prisons, which are needed now more than ever due to the coronavirus. ICE needs a place to go, and more centers in the baking sun in Arizona or Texas compared to the cooler conditions California are only going to be considered if needed.”
“California has as much to lose here. And I do agree that we should be looking at prison and detention alternatives for the future, but right now they’re needed, and GEO spent $300 million on these places, all ready to go.”
“With the coronavirus, prisons are still needed, especially to stretch the areas inside to allow for proper social distancing. This is just reducing options.”
“What should be happening is GEO and the government working with California to find a middle ground solution to this so these rural areas where the prisons are at aren’t on the verge of losing thousands of jobs a piece. Maybe California contracting them under state direction or having prisoners participate in mandatory prison industry programs so that the state is involved in these places to prevent closure while in hand making sure non-violent prisoners have skills and licenses on the way out without that barring employment question of being incarcerated holding them back. There’s a lot of situations where fair punishment and rehabilitation can be in private prisons that the state refused to look at, ditto for ICE.”
“And that’s not even mentioning violent criminals needing to be held longer on a much shorter leash in prisons that many private prisons specialize in.”
“A lot of people think private prisons are these godforsaken places where prisoners are treated cruelly, but they’re really as fair as any prison. California is getting rid of something very much needed, and a lot of people haven’t really seen the big picture.”
The cases are expected to have a final ruling in the coming months after the conclusion of the trial.
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