House sets private detention center for closure

By Patric Haerle

WNPA News Service

Washington’s only private detention center is proposed for closure.

House Bill 1090 prohibits any person, business or government from operating private, for-profit detention facilities. It recently passed in the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support and will receive a Senate vote in coming weeks.

“When you have to report to [stakeholders] that profit, there is a conflict with meeting the needs of those that are incarcerated,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, prime sponsor of the bill. “And it’s easy to abuse, because those who are incarcerated have the least voice of anybody.”

The Northwest Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Tacoma is the only such facility in the state. Owned by the private company GEO, it has come under fire for aggressive use of solitary confinement and because detainees frequently stage hunger strikes. Under the bill, the facility can continue to operate until 2025.

Reports from the University of Washington Center for Human Rights show the NWIPC detains people in solitary confinement longer than any other ICE facility in the nation and frequently uses solitary confinement for those who are mentally ill — a violation of its own rules. UW reports also found frequent complaints of detainees being served spoiled food, sometimes infested with worms or maggots, which triggered several hunger strikes.

A spokesman for the Day 1 Alliance, a trade association partially founded by GEO that represents companies in private detention and corrections, in a statement called the bill an “ill-advised legislative effort.”

The statement defended treatment at the NWIPC, saying detainees receive free legal counsel and “modern recreation amenities.” The statement also attacked the bill for the possibility of separating those detained in the facility from support networks. “This bill would likely force those individuals to be transferred outside of the state, isolating them from family, friends and legal services,” the statement says.

Ortiz-Self said she believes those in the facility “would prefer humane treatment over proximity.”

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