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Detainees at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility are paid to work in the facility. In this file photo, these men work in the laundry room to earn a little money.

A new bill passed by legislators earlier this month would end the use of private prisons throughout the state, and could lead to the closure of the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield within a year, advocates say.

AB 32 would phase out the state’s use of private prisons by 2028, and result in the closure of private facilities that detain immigrants, according to the Freedom for Immigrants advocacy group.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has yet to sign the bill, but is widely expected to do so based on a promise he made during his gubernatorial campaign.

Mesa Verde, which is located on Golden State Avenue and is operated by GEO Group Inc., has been under the threat of closure before.

The facility had been operating through an intergovernmental service agreement with the city of McFarland before the City Council abruptly canceled the contract in late 2018.

The city’s actions led many to believe Mesa Verde would not legally be allowed to remain open.

In 2017, the state Legislature passed a law that prevented cities and counties from entering into new contracts with federal agencies or private corporations for the purpose of detaining noncitizens.

After McFarland canceled its agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, it appeared that the agency would not be allowed to enter into an agreement with another city or county to keep it open.

However, ICE penned a one-year contract directly with GEO in March that will keep the Mesa Verde open through March 18, 2020.

But AB 32 could stand in the way of a contract extension.

“We know ICE and GEO have colluded to undermine our state laws in the past to expand their inhumane detention facilities in Mesa Verde and Adelanto,” Freedom for Immigrants Policy Monitor Cynthia Galaz said in an email. “Any collusion between ICE and the private prison industry must be investigated and exposed. We will not stand by and allow GEO to interfere in our state's local politics in order to profit off of locking up our community members.”

Citing a policy of not commenting on pending legislation, ICE Field Office Director David Jennings did not discuss how AB 32 could impact Mesa Verde, but he said the agency would continue to detain immigrants that are required to be taken into custody under national policy.

“Whether they’re detained here or elsewhere there’s a group of people that will be detained regardless,” he said.

Both assemblymen Vince Fong and Rudy Salas voted against AB 32, as did Sen. Shannon Grove.

The bill could have significant impacts on the city of McFarland, which hosts two private prisons operated by GEO.

“Any time a community loses a significant employer, there’s going to be a ripple,” said interim City Manager David Tooley.

He added that GEO was the city’s largest water customer, and closing the private prisons could cut into the city’s revenue.

The state had already announced that it planned to close a third McFarland private prison operated by GEO. In July, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation said it planned to close the 700-bed Central Valley Modified Community Correctional Facility by the end of November.

GEO has stood by its business practices. The company said in an email AB 32 worked against the state’s anti-recidivism goals.

“GEO is an innovator in the field of rehabilitative services,” a company spokesperson said. “Individuals in our facilities are part of our continuum of care that intensely focuses on rehabilitation programs and post-release support services, helping inmates earn their re-entry into society as productive and employable citizens.”

The total cost of the bill is unknown, but a state analysis said the price tag could climb as high as $133 million.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, authored the bill. He said it would help prioritize rehabilitation programs and reduce recidivism rates.

Sam Morgen can be reached at 661-395-7415. Follow him on Twitter: @smorgenTBC.

(16) comments


@echozero1337 - No. They're not. What on earth are you even talking about? Minorities??? I'm not talking about how much the guards make (They're employees, of course they're going to be paid) I'm talking about corporations having a vested financial interest in keeping people behind bars as long as they possibly can. The state has no financial interest in keeping people locked up, in fact quite the opposite. Inmates are a financial burden on the state, so it's incumbent upon the state to do what it can to rehabilitate (That's a whole other conversation) as quickly as possible. Many of these corporations "buy and trade" inmates based on how far they are from their families in order to make even more money by charging inmates for out of town visitors. Again....shameful. I want to point out again that I am NOT in favor of early releases, fewer prisons, etc. Downtown Bakersfield is a wreck because of early releases. What I AM in favor of are ZERO privatized prisons. It's wrong.


I must admit that I had never heard that prisoners in private facilities serve longer sentences than those in public facilities. Is this anecdotal or do you have studies or evidence that support this contention?

The charge you make seems to indicate that these private facilities have the power to extend sentences made by a judge. I'm having some difficulty in understanding how this might happen.


Sure. It happened to me, and hundreds of people I've either met with or spoken to. Along with a business partner, I was sentenced to 24 months in Federal prison for white collar crime in 2010. We were both sentenced at the same time, by the same judge. He was sent to SPC Yankton in South Dakota, and I went to Taft. Yankton is operated by the BOP, and Taft is operated by MTC, a private corporation. Neither of us had a record when sentenced. In the Federal system, you are required to serve at least 85% of your sentence, so none of this California stuff where you're sentenced to 5 years, and serve 4 months. In the end, he served 11 months, and served the rest at Turning Point, a halfway house here in town. I served 23 months and nine days, and a couple weeks at Turning Point, because by law, I had to be "rehabilitated" back into society, so they were forced to allow me to stay there for 14 days. They were generous, and gave me 20. I could write another 10 pages on the differences between the two, but have to run. From somebody that has gone through this, believe me when I tell you that for profit prisons are something that should be abolished, and left to North Korea.


Truly fascinating. You really should write a more lengthy article as a community voice piece. I always thought opposition to private facilities was limited to the corrections union (who have a vested interest in opposing private facilities.


Don't know enuf about these 'prisons-detention centers' but if . . . >>>

"Both assemblymen Vince Fong and Rudy Salas voted against AB 32, as did Sen. Shannon Grove." >>> That's good enough for me to see it's a bad bill. Just another typical "Spavin'(D) Gavin" 'faux pas' . . . blunder . . .


Great. The liberals will ket more dirtbags out on the streets


Que es "ket" ?

Gary Crabtree

When Mesa Verde closes, the city and county can buy it and turn it into a permanent homeless center. That kills two birds with one stone.

Tony Tee

Solution: Give the inmates a one-way ticket, fossil-free transportation to San Francisco, Alameda County, and Sacramento. Let them deal with their housing and living expenses.


You people obviously have not educated yourselves about the corruption involved with privately owned prisons. Just fall back on your stupid ideology for everything.


So you have personally experienced the corruption from privately owned prisons? That’s fantastic! Can you please tell me where I can find one of these privately owned prisons?


I have, yes. On the Federal side of the fence. Wackenhut, MTC, these are all organizations who PROFIT from keeping people behind bars. It's shameful, unethical, and should be against Federal and state law. I'm not advocating for fewer prisons, I'm advocating for stability across the board. If two people are incarcerated for the same crime, with relatively the same history, they should serve the same sentence. Currently, it's "luck of the draw" as to where you end up. If you end up in a privately managed facility, you're going to be there longer because they get paid for every day you're there. It's shameful.


Moardeeb: FAKE NEWS! (Oh, wait... a tiny bit of research proves you’re right)


100% correct. Don't get rid of prisons, but prisons-for-profit is unbelievably unethical. Anyone who can't see the corruption or conflict needs to pull their fingers out of their ears, stop saying "I'm not listening, I'm not listening" and become an adult.


All Prisons are Prisons-For-Profit. Do CO's not earn a higher than average wage? Do Prisons use Public Funds to purchase their goods from Corporations? Why do we have more minorities in Prison? Why does KC have more prisons than any other county in the state? Couple that with the BPD/KCSO trigger happy LEO's.


85% of the County lack a higher education. Please be gentle. They have fragile egg shell minds.

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