George Franco Prisoners' Rights

Private SoCal Prison Remains Open Despite Ban

Despite President Biden's ban on private prisons, a for-profit private prison in San Diego, California, is attempting to remain open.
Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

By George Franco / San Quentin News

A for-profit GEO Group private prison is attempting to keep its federal lockup operating despite President Joe Biden’s executive order to shut down. 

The Western Region Detention Facility (WRDF), a 770-bed federal detention center in San Diego run by the GEO Group, received a six-month extension to a two-year contract that had expired on Sept. 30, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. 

In an announcement, GEO contended that it is best positioned to continue as WRDF’s operator. GEO also noted that completely closing the detention center would cause pre-trial detainees to be incarcerated far from court attorneys and family in San Diego. 

Last October, a federal judge upheld a California law that bans private prisons for civil immigration detention but allowed these facilities to house federal marshals’ detainees. This ruling is now under appeal. 

Biden’s order forbids the Justice Department from engaging in business with for-profit, private prisons in order to reduce incarceration and increase rehabilitations, according to the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General. Private detention facilities were criticized for inadequate safety and security. 

Two other detention centers are in San Diego: Otay Mesa Detention Center, operated by CoreCivic and subject to the Executive Order, and the Metropolitan Correctional Facility, operated by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

All three facilities have been criticized for failing to properly handle the COVID-19 pandemic by not implementing protocols that would protect inmates, the newspaper reported. To address overcrowding in the pandemic, the federal court worked with prosecutors and defense attorneys to reduce pre-trial, post-conviction incarceration to low levels in certain non-violent crimes, the story said. 

Detention centers like these mostly handle pre-trial defendants with federal crimes, the Union-Tribune said. 

The city of McFarland — in Kern County with 16,000 residents, and 250 miles from San Diego — is expected to become the San Diego facility’s intermediary. 

In August, McFarland’s city attorney suggested that the city pursue negotiations to enter into business with the Marshals Service, eventually subcontracting the service to the GEO group, according to the City Council agenda. 

McFarland would get a $500.000 administrative fee for its participation, which “could generate new revenue for the city,” according to the city manager. It was not established who would pay the fee, since the city manager, who also acts as police chief, did not respond to a request for comment. 

California’s three affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter urging the Biden administration “to defeat these blatant efforts to strip the Executive Order of any meaningful impact.” 

“Rather than permit GEO to use the next six months to cement the fate of the Executive Order as a dead letter, the Administration should use this opportunity to wind down GEO’s involvement at WRDF entirely,” the letter states. 

GEO has turned to what it calls “various alternative contracting structures” in order to circumvent the president’s executive order, but the ACLU considers the McFarland deal as a violation of that order. 

“A similar deal has already kept Marshals Service detainees in place at one private facility, the ACLU notes,” said the Union-Tribune. In March, the Marshals Service had a 90-day extension deal for its contract with private prison company CoreCivic. This contract extension allowed the continued housing of federal detainees at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, which also houses state and county prisoners, according to the article. 

ACLU senior staff attorney Bardis Vakili notes that for a city as far away as McFarland, with no ties to San Diego, handing over operations presents the issue of accountability.

San Quentin News is written by incarcerated people advancing social justice.

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