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SB 1222 would mandate insurance requirements and human rights standards

May 15, 2020 - SACRAMENTO, Calif.  - On Thursday, the Senate Insurance Committee approved SB 1222, authored by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-ricardo lara california insurance commissionerLos Angeles) and sponsored by Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara, to protect the health and safety of immigrants held in private, for-profit detention facilities and prisons.

SB 1222 requires for-profit detention facilities and prisons operating in California to meet insurance requirements including worker’s compensation and liability, and mandates that they obtain coverage from an admitted carrier authorized to do business in California by the California Department of Insurance. Private, for-profit detention facilities and prisons that fail to meet minimum established state and federal detention, health, and safety standards that protect the medical needs, safety requirements, and human rights of immigrants would lose their insurance coverage and their contract with the local city or county in which they operate.

“SB 1222 requires for-profit detention facilities and prisons to meet national detention and minimal state jail standards, and meet all appropriate state and local building, zoning, health, safety, and fire statutes, ordinances and regulations,” stated State Senator María Elena Durazo. “The aim of this bill is to hold detention facilities and prisons accountable to the same standards when we entrust them to house our residents. In doing so, we hope to increase health and human rights conditions for the people of California while in custody.”

“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed a human rights tragedy that has been going on for years in these for-profit immigration facilities,” said Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara. “By mandating that immigrant detention centers meet basic standards or lose their insurance, SB 1222 will finally force private prison companies to treat detained immigrants with basic human decency.”

Poor conditions and inhumane treatment of immigrants has had tragic consequences in these private, for-profit facilities and prisons, with 15 deaths in California since 2010, according to Human Rights Watch. On May 6, 2020, Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia, a detainee at Otay Mesa Detention Center, a for-profit detention facility in San Diego, became the first person in immigration custody nationwide to die from COVID-19. Otay Mesa Detention Center has the nation’s largest COVID-19 outbreak, with nearly 200 confirmed cases. Since the COVID-19 crisis started, federal courts have started to order the release of immigrant detainees who are at high risk of illness or death due to poor conditions in for-profit detention centers.

SB 1222 would require for-profit detention facilities and prisons to meet state and federal standards including the federal Performance-Based National Detention Standards and the California Board of State and Community Corrections minimum jail standards – standards supported by human rights and immigration rights advocates nationwide. The Trump Administration has failed to enforce the federal Performance-Based National Detention Standards, instead using different standards that members of the U.S. Congress have called “woefully outdated.” Further exacerbating this life-and-death situation, the Trump Administration further weakened its own standards for medical care in December 2019 by deleting a requirement that a licensed physician oversee treatment of a patient — just months before the COVID-19 outbreak.

"After many warnings to ICE and CoreCivic officials about the conditions at the privately run Otay Mesa Detention Center, on March 7, the first death of a detainee in an immigration detention center in California was reported. As a result, SB 1222 (Durazo) is now a more critical measure to ensure these for-profit entities adhere by minimum safety standards if they want to obtain the required insurance to continue operating in California," said Angelica Salas, Executive Director of CHIRLA.

SB 1222 is supported by civil rights groups, immigrant rights lawyers, and public safety organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Public Counsel, and the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, among others, and has no opposition.

The measure will go next to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. If approved by both houses of the California State Legislature and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, SB 1222 would take effect on January 1, 2021.

What others are saying:

“SB 1222 would aid in our efforts to ensure that individuals detained by ICE at private for-profit immigrant detention facilities do not face life-threatening conditions. It would require that these facilities follow the Performance-Based National Detention Standards which requires facilities to adhere to CDC guidelines for the prevention and control of infectious and communicable disease, and maintain their own detailed plans for infectious disease control.” – Judy London, Directing Attorney, Immigrants’ Rights Project, Public Counsel

“The federal immigration detention system is in crisis due to the absence of enforceable standards. SB 1222 would go a long way in improving conditions at least in California facilities.” – Gregory Chen, Senior Director of Government Relations, American Immigration Lawyers Association

“SB 1222 compliments previous policy reforms by requiring insurance companies providing coverage to private for-profit prisons and detention facilities to be an admitted insurance carrier authorized to do business in California and mandating that private for-profit prisons and detention facilities meet and maintain insurance requirements (e.g. general liability, automobile liability, umbrella liability, workers’ compensation) to continue to operate in California.” – Kevin Baker, Legislative Director, ACLU of California

“SB 1222 (Durazo) provides a powerful financial motivation for private for-profit prisons and detention facilities to adhere to local, state, and federal standards while additionally ensuring that these facilities maintain comprehensive insurance coverage. Most importantly, this bill will ensure that basic health, safety, and human rights are afforded to our most vulnerable populations.” – Javier Hernandez, Director, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice

“SB 1222 would ensure further oversight of detention facilities operating in the state and provide methods for contract termination if requirements are not met.” – Orville Thomas, Government Affairs Director, California Immigrant Policy Center

“SB 1222 will take an important step forward in leveling the playing field when it comes to comparing for-profit and government operated facilities. More importantly, however, this bill will provide some state oversight to ensure that the health, safety and welfare of the detainees, employees and visitors of for-profit, private detention facilities.” – William Young, President, Riverside Sheriff’s Association
Source: CA. Dept. of Insurance