OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill aimed at shutting down one of the country’s largest for-profit, privately run immigration jails.
The 1,575-bed Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma is operated by the GEO Group under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and it’s the only for-profit detention facility in the state.
The bill would allow GEO to continue operating the jail until its contract with ICE expires in 2025.
The bill was sponsored by Democratic Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self of Mukilteo, who called it a "moral injustice" to profit from detaining people.
The bill is likely to face a legal challenge. GEO sued over a similar 2019 measure in California, though a federal judge there largely sided with the state.
The company has long said it provides for the safety of detainees there in accordance with federal standards, despite allegations of substandard conditions. It noted that the federal government provides health care at the facility.
The Northwest Detention Center currently houses fewer than 200 detainees because of pandemic-related precautions.
The Tacoma immigration lockup has long been a target of immigrant rights activists. Supporters argued that the severe drop in immigration detention during the pandemic proved it's not necessary to keep so many immigrants locked up, and they criticized minimum-bed quotas that are written into contracts with private detention facilities.