CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signs bill banning private prisons into law


CA Gov. Gavin Newsom signs bill banning private prisons into law

October 11, 2019

Media Contact: Rebekah Entralgo,

LOS ANGELES, CA. – On Friday California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 32, a piece of legislation that effectively phases out the use of private prisons in the state beginning on January 1, 2020. Freedom for Immigrants applauds Gov. Newsom for putting people over profits and continuing to make California a model state in the movement to abolish immigration detention.

AB 32 is one of the most progressive and far-reaching bills on immigration detention ever made in the United States. It prevents private prison companies from directly contracting with ICE to perpetuate a profit-driven and abuse-ridden system of mass incarceration. Under the law, California will not be able to enter into new contracts with private prisons for criminal custody nor modify or extend them. It also prohibits ICE from contracting, modifying, or extending a current contract with a private prison.

Under AB 32, all four of the remaining detention facilities in California could close as early as 2020. This includes Mesa Verde, Otay, Calexico, and Adelanto, the latter of which the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General has described as having a complete “disregard for detainee health and safety” in a scathing 2018 report. All four of those contracts will expire by the end of next year, with the final one, Calexico, set to end in September 2020.

The Yuba County Jail will hold the last remaining contract with ICE in the state, but due to a state budget provision spearheaded by Freedom for Immigrants in 2017, it cannot be expanded.

“Over 70% of those in ICE custody are housed in private prison facilities,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants.  “Closing immigrant prisons is an essential step towards dismantling a system that profits off of abuse and lines the pockets of private prison executives and industry shareholders. AB 32 is truly a model for the rest of the nation.”

“Having spent over 9 years and 4 months in immigration detention, including in a private prison in California, I am overjoyed by the passage of AB 32,” said Sylvester Owino, a Leadership Council member of Freedom for Immigrants and owner of Rafikiz Foodz.“There is so much more work to be done at the federal level, but this bill in my home state is a step forward in the fight to end our costly and inhumane detention system.”

The Dignity Not Detention Act, a bill drafted and co-sponsored by Freedom for Immigrants, paved the way for AB 32 when it was signed into law in October 2017 by former Governor Jerry Brown. The law prohibits California localities from entering into new contracts or expanding existing contracts with private prisons for the purposes of immigration detention.  The bill, combined with a state budget amendment, also created critical oversight mechanisms by subjecting private immigration facilities to California public records requests and empowering the Office of the Attorney General to conduct inspections of any immigration detention facilities in the state. 

“California is not alone in the fight to end the abusive practice of separating families through immigration detention – abolishing detention is becoming a national movement,” said Sarah Gardiner, Director of Policy at Freedom for Immigrants. “Statewide closures of detention facilities should be coupled with commitments to humane alternatives to detention and the immediate release of those who are not subject to mandatory detention.”

Bills like AB 32 have been scrutinized for encouraging more transfers to other facilities, however that criticism ignores the reality that ICE has broad discretion over who is detained, transferred, or deported. Transfers are caused by ICE, not by activists who call for the closure of immigrant jails.

Freedom for Immigrants is in partnership with a coalition of California organizations that have worked to pass AB32. Together we have launched the AB32 Emergency Response Fund to ensure that we are able to support in the ethical closure of the private immigration detention facilities. The proceeds from this fund will be used to pay immigration bonds and to support families who are impacted by transfers and closures. 

Freedom for Immigrants has built an interactive map to expose the scope of private and public immigration detention across the United States. The map also includes resources for directly impacted persons, activists, and policy makers.