SACRAMENTO – Today, California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) introduced AB 263, known as the Health Oversight and Leadership in Detention Act (HOLD Act) that will empower California health officials to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring health orders are followed inside for-profit, private detention facilities. The HOLD Act will also ensure employees in these facilities have a safe workplace that complies with Cal/OSHA worksite standards.
“We know congregate settings in general make it easier for the COVID-19 virus and other communicable diseases to spread,” said Bonta. “During the pandemic, we’ve seen disregard for basic human safety inside California’s for-profit, private detention facilities and, as a result, deadly outbreaks have been documented. There have been hundreds of cases of people testing positive for COVID-19 and basic steps to prevent the spread of the virus have not been taken. The HOLD Act will give clear authority to state and county health officials to enforce basic health standards that will protect workers and Californians being detained.”
The HOLD Act will provide clarity in statute that state and county health officials have the authority to enforce health orders in these private detention facilities operating under contracts with the federal government. Further, this legislation will extend the same clarity for the enforcement of Cal/OSHA safety standards.
“We’ve seen time and again that these for-profit private corporations will value profit over people. We must ensure all private facilities in California follow all health orders and provide safe and humane treatment for everyone,” said Bonta.
“For-profit, private detention facilities have a long and dark history of human rights abuses and failing to uphold federal, state, and local health & safety standards,” said Senator María Elena Durazo (SD-24), Principal Co-Author of the HOLD Act, AB 263 "The COVID-19 pandemic has only made these problems worse - for example, the San Diego based Otay Mesa Detention Center last year was the center of the first major COVID-19 outbreak, with nearly 200 confirmed cases at the time, and also was the site of the one of the first COVID-19 deaths of a civil detainee, Carlos Ernesto Escobar-Mejia. While California has taken a strong stance against these facilities and their abusive practices with legislation like AB 32, and our ultimate goal is to phase out their operations completely, we must continue to take strong action to protect the health and safety of people still held in these facilities, and especially so in the midst of this public health crisis.”
“Ensuring that health orders are followed in private detention facilities will not only save lives inside these facilities but will also protect public health in the vulnerable communities and rural regions where most of these detention centers are located,” said Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), Co-Author of AB 263.
“Assemblymember Bonta’s bill clarifies that all entities—including private detention facilities—must comply with California’s state and local public health orders. As we’ve learned this past year, carceral facilities are petri dishes for outbreaks which spread among incarcerated individuals, the staff and the communities around them. This bill is an important step in curbing the scourge of COVID-19 and preventing future outbreaks,” said Assemblymember Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), Assembly Republican Leader and Co-Author of AB 263.
“Private detention facilities in our state have been the scene of massive COVID outbreaks, inhumane practices, and medical neglect. California must send a clear message that these facilities are not above the law, and must abide by public health orders designed to protect community health and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Jackie Gonzalez, Policy Director at Immigrant Defense Advocates, Sponsor of AB 263.
NextGen is also a proud co-sponsor of AB 263.
Assemblymember Bonta has previously passed legislation relating to for-profit, private detention facilities in California. In 2019, he passed AB 32 that would ban the use all for-profit, private prisons and detention facilities in California when their existing contracts expire. In 2020, Bonta passed AB 3228 that holds all remaining private detention facility operators accountable by ensuring they adhere to the minimum detention standards agreed upon in the contract for the facility by providing for a cause of action in state court for any violations of those agreed upon standards. By providing this cause of action, California can ensure that these detention facilities uphold basic human rights and standards in the treatment of civil detainees.
AB 263, the HOLD Act, will contain an urgency clause allowing it to take effect immediately once signed into law.
Assemblymember Rob Bonta represents the 18th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Oakland, Alameda, and San Leandro and is the Assistant Majority Leader.