On January 1, private prisons that detain immigrants became subject to the California Public Records Act.
The new legal provision is part of the Dignity Not Detention Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2017. With this law, California became the first state in the country to apply open records laws to private immigration detention facilities. The law also effectively freezes the expansion of for-profit immigration detention facilities in the state.
Until now, private companies that operate immigration detention facilities have been exempt from public scrutiny. Advocates have been unable to obtain documents that should be open to the public, such as civil and human rights complaints filed with the private facilities.
This week, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a co-sponsor of the Dignity Not Detention Act, filed a Public Records Act request with the Adelanto Detention Facility, a California immigration detention facility run by GEO Group. In the request, CIVIC asked for records of abuse as well as surveillance footage from an alleged June 2017 incident where guards pepper-sprayed and beat men on hunger strike. Previously, GEO Group told KPIX that the video was GEO Group's property.
But now, under the Dignity Not Detention Act, the Adelanto Detention Facility is required by law to release this footage to the public. While the Dignity Not Detention Act in California is a substantial step forward, private immigration detention facilities remain exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as well as other state public records laws. Over the years, there have been multiple legislative attempts to change this at the federal level. In fact, in August, Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) introduced Senate Bill 1728 to make private prisons subject to FOIA.
It is time that the public has access to what is happening behind these closed doors with our tax dollars.
Learn how you can file a CA Public Records Act with an immigration detention facility.