Two protestors hold a sign that reads "Shut down the NWDC" in front of the barbed-wire fence of the NWIPC in Tacoma

‘This Is a Win of the People’: Activists Celebrate Ban On For-Profit Prisons

by Luna Reyna, contributing columnist

On Tuesday, March 30, the Washington State Senate voted to ban private, for-profit prisons and detention centers. Immigration and human rights activists who have shed light on the last 20 years of human rights violations at Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) are celebrating this major development. “This is a win of the People,” announced Maru Mora Villalpando of the grassroots undocumented immigrant-led group La Resistencia, following the news. “Thanks to all that supported this fight throughout the years and thanks to all legislators.”

Over time the Free Them All campaign garnered the attention of many Washington residents, and it became harder for state representatives to ignore public outcry about the inhuman conditions at NWIPC. On August 4, 2020, in collaboration with La Resistencia and the Commission on Immigrant and Refugees Affairs (CIRA), the Tacoma City Council passed a resolution advocating for the release of all detainees at NWIPC in order to “directly address health and racial equity issues impacting individuals detained at the NWIPC.” While these actions by the Tacoma City Council allowed for much-needed collaboration and helped to maintain pressure, activists hoped for more action by Governor Jay Inslee at the time. “We know that he is handling an emergency, as he should, but this is also an emergency and people in detention are also Washingtonians,” Villalpando told the Emerald in September of last year. 

The bill, which passed in the House earlier this session, now heads for Gov. Inslee’s desk. After the last year’s daily protests for Black lives and in support of racial equity, organizers and activists hope that Gov. Inslee will acknowledge the importance and impact this bill will have in creating more racially equitable, compassionate, and safe living environments for our immigrant neighbors. 

At present, the NWIPC conditions are so dire that, according to La Resistencia newsletters and Emerald reporting, one Venezuelan migrant is currently at 120 days of hunger-striking and one woman has been refusing food for two months. Hunger strikes are one of the very few ways those detained are able to advocate for themselves and inform the public because the facility has consistently declined to share information. “These facilities are not accountable to the public. Government officials and advocates have sought information from private detention facilities, through the Freedom of Information Act, but have been turned down on the basis of trade secrets,” the Bill Report reads.

If this bill becomes law, GEO Group, the facility operator and the largest private prison company in the country, will continue operating in Tacoma until 2025 when the current contract ends.

Luna Reyna is a South King County-based journalist. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering the work and voices of marginalized communities. Whether investigating the impact of environmental racism or immigration, interviewing an artist whose work sheds light on the casualties of war, or covering restorative justice efforts as a self-described “Cannabis Chronic-ler,” her work is in service of liberation and advancing justice.

Featured Image: Protesters at the Northwest ICE Processing Center (NWIPC) in Tacoma. The privately-owned and run prison will be closed in 2025 if Gov. Jay Inslee signs into law a bill banning private prisons that passed in the legislature this week. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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