California Attorney General Rob Bonta said last fall that he would seek a rehearing after the conservatives from a three-judge appeals panel ruled against historic state law banning private, for-profit prisons. This includes detention facilities that imprison immigrants.
In a significant step forward for California—and the immigrant communities that passionately fought for the law’s passage in 2019—the state will get a new hearing in front of an 11-judge appeals panel. The three-judge panel’s Oct. 2021 ruling has also been thrown out, San Francisco Chronicle reported.
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Bonta as a state assemblyman authored AB 32, which would block the state from entering into new private prison contracts, or renewing existing ones. “We are sending a powerful message that we vehemently oppose the practice of profiteering off the backs of Californians in custody,” Bonta said at the time. “We are committed to humane treatment for all.”
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The bill targeted a deadly immigration detention facility operated by notorious private prison profiteer GEO Group, which, predictably, sued. While a George W. Bush-appointed judge initially ruled against GEO Group, the private prison profiteer appealed. Two of the judges were appointed by the previous administration. The third and lone dissenting judge was appointed by the Obama administration.
This rehearing means that California will now face off against the Biden administration. When the previous administration lost its coup attempt and left office on January 20, 2021, the new administration took over in urging the courts to block AB 32. “Biden’s Justice Department has backed the Trump administration’s position and argued that federal law does not authorize state regulation,” the Chronicle reported.
The Biden administration’s defense of GEO Group and its abhorrent facility is at odds with the president’s executive order directing the Justice Department to not renew private prison contracts, and his campaign pledge “that the federal government should not use private facilities for any detention, including detention of undocumented immigrants.” The Dignity Not Detention Coalition said last fall that a ruling in favor of GEO Group “would allow these detention centers, which have a long track record of serious abuse, to remain open.”
GEO Group also has the backing of the federal government as a court last fall ordered the company to pay $23 million in damages for violating minimum wage laws in Washington state. The Northwest ICE Processing Center facility had been forcing detained immigrants to work for $1 a day, and sometimes nothing at all. Rather than having to pay immigrants beyond what the court had required, the multi-billion company instead shut down this “Voluntary Work Program.”
In seeking a rehearing last fall, Bonta said that “for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities that treat people like commodities pose an unacceptable risk to the health and welfare of Californians. AB 32 puts people over profits.”
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