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3/5/2021 Prison reform bills would ban private detention facilities, contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement
STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joshua J. Giraldo (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls) and Sen. Jonathon Acosta (D-Dist. 16, Central Falls, Pawtucket) have introduced a package of comprehensive prison reform legislation that seeks to end the use of private prisons in Rhode Island, ban the housing of Rhode Island prisoners in other states, and stop the state from entering into contracts with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The first bill (2021-H 5749, 2021-S 0399) would repeal the Municipal Detention Facility Corporations law and prohibit the operation of private detention facilities and private public partnerships within the state. Those currently in operation could continue to do so until Dec. 31, 2028.

“Our experimentation with private prisons has been a failure,” said Representative Giraldo, whose district includes the privately owned Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility. “Not only do private prisons fail to provide the substantial savings we were promised, but they provide fewer correctional services while providing a greater risk to inmates and staff.”

The act would further prohibit the housing of Rhode Island prisoners in other states as well as holding out-of-state prisoners in Rhode Island facilities.

“Justice shouldn’t be a moneymaking endeavor,” said Senator Acosta. “We would be horrified if judges were paid on commission, based on the number of people they convicted, so why would we be OK with a prison system that benefits from higher numbers of incarcerations? Justice should never be dispensed with one eye looking at a profit margin.”

The second bill (2021-H 5750, 2021-S 0400) would prohibit contracts with private, for-profit prison facilities or with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“ICE detainees in Rhode Island have been treated unfairly, they’ve been exposed to COVID, and have been denied the most basic rights that are afforded to even the most notorious criminals,” said Representative Giraldo. “We refer to prisons as ‘correctional facilities,’ but with ICE detainees, there’s nothing to correct. It’s time to end the heinous practice of imprisoning these people in a private prison.”

The Wyatt Detention Center entered into a contract with ICE from 2005 to 2008 when a detainee from China died while in the prison’s custody. The contract was terminated, but began anew in January 2019.

“Rhode Island shouldn’t be in the business of incarcerating immigrants,” said Senator Acosta. “These people are being treated as though they are among the worst of our criminals, when their only crime is their desire to become Americans.”

The third bill (2021-H 5751, 2021-S 0394) would provide for a safety inspection of the Wyatt Detention Facility twice a year, and the fourth bill (2021-H 5776, 2021-S 0248) would prohibit financial institutions from investing in private detention centers or continuing to invest with any institution, company or subsidiary of a company that owns or contracts with a government entity to manage or run a prison.

The House bills have been referred to the House Committee on State Government and Elections, with the exception of 5776, which has been referred to the House Corporations Committee, while the Senate bills have been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For more information, contact:
Daniel Trafford, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903