By Nancy Aviña and Linhchi Nguyen
SACRAMENTO – A California State Assemblymember has introduced legislation to address the lack of health and safety protections for Californians in private detention facilities—including those that detain immigrants being held by ICE, charging conditions have worsened because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Human rights abuses and the failure to uphold basic safety standards inside for-profit, private detention centers have been exacerbated, charged Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) in the introduction of AB 263, to be known as the Health Oversight and Leadership in Detention (HOLD) Act.
The measure will ensure health orders are followed inside these facilities to protect the workers and those detained.
The HOLD Act will address how county health officials now have the authority to enforce similar county health orders in private detention facilities that are under contracts with the government.
Additionally, the HOLD Act will also allow health officials to address more safety standards regarding the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), who is the Assembly Republican Leader and Co-Author of AB 263, favors this piece of legislation, stating that carceral facilities are petri dishes for outbreaks spread among incarcerated individuals, the staff and the communities around them.
In fact, according to Senator María Elena Durazo, another co-Author of the Hold Act, “for-profit, private detention facilities have a long and dark history of human rights abuses and failing to uphold federal, state, and local health and safety standards.”
Policy Director at Immigrant Defense Advocates and Sponsor of AB 263, Jackie Gonzalez, added that these facilities in California “have been the scene of massive COVID outbreaks, inhumane practices, and medical neglect.”
Bonta supported this claim by pointing out the hundreds of cases of people testing positive for COVID-19 in these facilities without any steps to prevent the spread of the virus.
For example, in the San Diego-based Otay Mesa Detention Center, there were nearly 200 confirmed cases last year, and a civil detainee, Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia, was one of the first COVID-19 deaths.
California is a home to six private detention facilities, and all six have been the site of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Bonta has tried to target this problem by authoring legislation, including AB 32 in 2019, that would ban the use of all for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities in California when their existing contracts expire.
“While California has taken a strong stance against these facilities and their abusive practices with legislation like AB 32, and our ultimate goal is to phase out their operations completely, we must continue to take strong action to protect the health and safety of people still held in these facilities, and especially so in the midst of this public health crisis,” said Senator María Elena Durazo (SD-24).
Apart from that, Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula of D-Fresno, also a co-author of AB 263 (HOLD Act), has stated that, “Ensuring that health orders are followed in private detention facilities will not only save lives inside these facilities but will also protect public health in the vulnerable communities and rural regions where most of these detention centers are located.”
Lastly, Gonzalez is sure that the HOLD Act is an essential piece of legislation because “California must send a clear message that these facilities are not above the law, and must abide by public health orders designed to protect community health and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
AB 263, the HOLD Act, will contain an urgency clause allowing it to take effect immediately once signed into law.
Nancy is a third-year Communication and Political Science – Public Service double major at the University of California, Davis, and is originally from Morgan Hill, California.
Linhchi Nguyen is a fourth year at UC Davis, double majoring in Political Science and English. She currently lives in Sacramento, California.
To sign up for our new newsletter – Everyday Injustice – https://tinyurl.com/yyultcf9
Support our work – to become a sustaining at $5 – $10- $25 per month hit the link: