CALIFORNIA: State Issues Ban On Private Prisons

Photo: Adelanto Detention Center in California, one of the private facilities used by ICE in California to detain immigrants

By Felipe Vera

Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), which passed in the California State Assembly on September 11, will go into effect next early next year, banning private prisons and four Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers in California by 2028.

While the bill still needs to be signed by the Governor Gavin Newsom by October 13, the role of bourgeois prisons and ICE will not be diminished in any significant way, regardless of the outcome. All this means is that inmates in private prisons will eventually be transferred into public prisons.

According to the California Legislative Information website, AB 32 will prevent “any state inmate” from being detained in any for-profit prison or detention center beginning in 2028. However, between 2020 and 2028, private prisons can renew their contracts with the state if there is a court-ordered cap on the state prison population, allowing inmates to be detained in private prisons during this period.

Far from being a blow to the bourgeois state’s dungeons or mass incarceration, AB 32 is essentially a reform of prison management. Written by Democrat Assemblyman Robert Bonta, it only targets the “Wall Street-owned for-profit, private facilities” which “inhumanely treat people as commodities.”

Interpreting this move as a progressive step forward fails to assess the state’s dominant role in mass incarceration. 92% of the US prison population are detained in prisons run by the state, whereas only 8% are detained in private prisons. These prisons do not operate based strictly on making profit like their privately-owned counterparts, but they certainly serve the profit-seeking bourgeois class, functioning as annihilation zones for the proletariat, the oppressed nations, and the poor.

Currently, there are over 2.2 million prisoners in the US, a population that began rapidly increasing in the 1970s and peaked during the 1990s with President Bill Clinton’s “three strikes” policy which primarily targeted the oppressed nations, specifically the Black Nation, during the crack epidemic. This policy, which mandated more life sentences for repeat criminals, was part of the 1994 crime bill which funded tens of thousands of additional police officers on the streets.

While ICE currently has nearly 49,000 immigrants detained, over 60 percent are held in private detention centers, with 15,000 imprisoned in Texas alone, the highest concentration of imprisoned immigrants in the country. The impending deportation of many of these imprisoned immigrants will not be delayed by AB 32.

Prisons have also acted as a counterrevolutionary safeguard since the early days of the Communist Party of the USA. To this day, political prisoners such as Sundiata Acoli, Leonard Peltier, and Mumia Abu-Jamal, to only name a few, have been incarcerated for over 40 years. The threat of imprisonment is still used today against revolutionaries in the US.

The only correct approach to prisons and immigrant detention centers is to turn them into shining trenches of combat and to combat and resist ICE, respectively. Unlike the “abolition” trend, which makes no steps at tearing down bourgeois prisons, let alone the capitalist state, and petty-bourgeois individual attacks, Communists and revolutionaries must actively train and transform prisons into recruiting grounds as well as confront ICE and mobilize the masses to resist.