Groups push White House to close detention centers run by private firms

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SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Community organizations are calling on the Biden administration to uphold its promise and commit to closing the Western Regional Detention Center in downtown San Diego.

It is operated by a private corporation called the GEO Group.

In January 2021, President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing the Attorney General to “not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities.”

The order included the Western Region Detention Facility, which can hold up to 770 people.

Its contract was set to expire on Sept. 30.

But GEO announced yesterday that its contract with the U.S. Marshals has been extended for six months, allowing it to continue operating while it looks at ways of extending its operations despite the executive order.

“President Biden forbid the Department of Justice from renewing the contract,” said Bardis Vakili, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in San Diego.

According to Vakili, GEO has found a loophole to continue operating the detention facility.

He says the company is using the small city of McFarland in central California as a shield, and that on paper, it is the one that will be running the detention center. Vakili claims this violates the basic premise of the executive order to prevent profit-based incentives that increase incarceration.

“You, McFarland, contracted to detain people with the U.S. Marshals Service. Because the executive order says we’re not allowed to. You contracted them and we’ll pay half a million dollars to then subcontract that back to us, and we’ll never actually leave the building,” Vakili said.

The ACLU has issued a letter calling on the Biden administration to intervene so that the U.S. Marshals Service does not permit The GEO Group, Inc., to continue operating the Western Region Detention Facility.

“GEO, as a private corporation, profits from harming people and communities everywhere. The Biden administration must join the national consensus and deliver on its promise to close this facility,” said Adriana Jasso, program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. “We must not allow a city 250 miles away to regulate the detention of people in San Diego, and the Biden administration must take action.”

There is fear other private corporations such as CoreCivic, which runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center just north of the border between San Diego and Tijuana, will follow suit when its contract expires.

“We demand the Department of Justice not to bow to private prison companies like CoreCivic and GEO and we won’t let them turn this executive order, which should be a milestone, into a joke,” said Vakili.

Through a statement, CoreCivic responded to the accusations.

“Our company has worked with every administration – Democrat and Republican – for nearly 40 years,” wrote Ryan Gustin, CoreCivic’s Director of Public Affairs. “Our sole job is to help the government solve problems in ways it could not do alone – to help manage unprecedented humanitarian crises, dramatically improve the standard of care for vulnerable people, and meet other critical needs efficiently and innovatively.”

GEO and the City of McFarland did not respond to our requests for comment about this story.

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