State Watch

Washington state Senate passes legislation to ban private, for-profit prisons

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The Washington state Senate has passed legislation this week that seeks to ban private, for-profit detention facilities in the state.

The upper chamber voted to pass the bill 28-21 on Tuesday. The measure, which previously passed the state House, now awaits consideration from Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who has signaled support for restricting the use of private prisons. 

If passed, the bill would prohibit any person, business, state or local governmental entity from operating private detention facilities in Washington, as well as utilizing contracts with a private detention facilities in the state, according to the bill text.

The bill states that any private detention facilities in the state that were operating “pursuant to a valid contract with a governmental entity” that took effect before 2021 can keep operating until the contract ends. 

According to The News Tribune, Northwest Detention Center is the sole private prison operating in the state. GEO Group reportedly owns the Tacoma-based prison, which is also contracted with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The contract is reportedly set to lapse in 2025.

The bill’s passage would make Washington one of more than 20 states that have already stopped the confinement of people in private for-profit facilities, the measure states.

The measure also outlined a few exceptions to the ban, including facilities that provide rehabilitative, medical, mental health and educational services to juveniles, and those used for “extraordinary medical placement” or “owned and operated by federally recognized tribes and contracting with a government.”

The bill’s passage’s comes after another effort to pass similar legislation previously failed, KNKX reported.

Democratic state Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, who is co-sponsoring the legislation, told the outlet that testimony from people that spoke up about alleged abuse they experienced when under detainment at the ICE detention center proved key to helping the bill pass the legislature this time around. 

“It sends a message to any organization,” Ortiz-Self told the outlet. 

The bill’s passage comes more than a year after California passed legislation banning for-profit prisons in October 2019, including the operation of private prisons used by ICE. The move prompted legal challenges from both the GEO Group and the U.S. Attorney General’s office

The ban was mostly upheld in a ruling by a California judge in late 2020, The Los Angeles Times reported at the time. 

Ortiz-Self told KNKX the ruling helped give other states confidence to enact similar legislation. 

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