California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday signed legislation that will effectively ban for-profit prisons, putting at risk several facilities that house both criminal offenders and detained immigrants being held by federal authorities.
The legislation will ban the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation from entering into or renewing contracts with a private prison company after the end of this year. It will bar the state from incarcerating inmates at most types of for-profit institutions altogether beginning in 2028.
The measure will end California’s relationships with the three private prisons it uses to house about 1,600 inmates, according to the corrections department. The state ended its relationship with two private prisons this year, including one facility in Arizona — the last out-of-state private prison with which it had a contract.
“By ending the use of for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities, we are sending a powerful message that we vehemently oppose the practice of profiteering off the backs of Californians in custody, that we will stand up for the health, safety and welfare of our people and that we are committed to humane treatment for all,” said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Oakland Democrat and the bill’s lead author.
The bill also bans the operation of private prisons currently used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which uses four private facilities to hold immigrants who are awaiting deportation. The agency is currently holding about 4,000 immigrants without legal status in those facilities.
An ICE spokeswoman said in a statement that the agency would simply move those immigrants to facilities in other states before the bill takes effect.
The private, for-profit prison industry has come under scrutiny in recent years over poor living conditions, a large number of violent incidents and having fewer worker or inmate protections than state-run facilities.
Opponents of private prisons also say their for-profit model incentivizes reincarceration, rather than rehabilitation, at a time when most criminal justice reform efforts have evolved to focus on getting former criminals out of the reoffending cycle.
California began housing inmates in private prisons in an effort to ease rapidly crowding conditions in the last several decades. Through the tough-on-crime 1980s and 1990s, California’s prison population increased five-fold, first eclipsing 100,000 inmates in 1992 and hitting 150,000 inmates just five years later. At its peak in 2006, California’s jail population stood at 173,000, according to The Sentencing Project, which monitors prison statistics and conditions.
In 2017, the last year for which records are available, nearly 130,000 California residents were in state prisons. Another 82,000 were housed in local jails. The state spends a whopping $13.5 billion on corrections expenditures every year.
California is the fourth state to ban private prisons. New York, Illinois and Iowa all have existing bans on the books.