by Jenifer Lockwood
A privately run jail in downtown San Diego is still holding federal detainees after receiving an “unprecedented” third exception to an executive order issued by Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D). Florida-based GEO Group, Inc., informed its 300 employees at the Western Region Detention Facility (WRDF) of the reprieve on June 24, 2022.
In January 2021, Biden issued Executive Order 14006, directing the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) not to renew any contracts with privately operated detention facilities. DOJ is the parent agency of both the federal Bureau of Prisons, which uses no private prisons, and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS), which uses nothing else. The order did not affect contracts to hold migrant detainees for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
Originally slated to close at the end of September 2021, WRDF received a six-month extension at the last minute. [See: PLN, Feb. 2022, p.28.] Before that expired at the end of March 2022, another 90-day extension followed. The latest extension came after DOJ filed another exception to the executive order. In its letter to employees, GEO Group said the jail will now remain open to hold USMS detainees at least until September 2023.
USMS transferred some detainees out of the jail before the extension was announced. That decision was reportedly based on a lack of space in the 770-bed lockup, which has also been dogged by allegations of poor conditions.
A lawsuit was filed in federal court for the District of Columbia in February 2022 by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), seeking to force USMS to cough up a copy of its contract with GEO Group at WRDF. It alleges that the company and USMS are plotting an end-run around Biden’s order — if their extensions ever run out, that is — by using the small central California city of MacFarland as an intermediary. The town is not part of the federal government, so not subject to the executive order. That means it could contract for the jail with GEO Group and then contract with USMS to hold detainees there. The ACLU is represented in that case by staff attorney Arthur B. Spitzer and co-counsel Matthew E. Kelley of Ballard Spahr LLP in Washington, DC. See: ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Ctys. v. United States Marshals Serv., USDC (D.D.C.), Case No. 1:22-cv-00393.
Additional source: Times of San Diego
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