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Wesson seeks to ban private prisons within city

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson started an effort June 29 to prohibit private prisons from being constructed and operating within the city.

Wesson’s proposal would zone the city in such a way that it would effectively ban private detention centers.

“Profiting off of locking people up will not fly in Los Angeles,” Wesson said in a statement. “We call on every city and county to join us in preventing this kind of activity from operating within its borders.”

Wesson said he started the effort because of recent reports that young children, who had been separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border, were detained in overcrowded areas and kept without basic necessities.

Wesson said private prisons sign contracts with U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement worth millions of dollars every year and carry “horrific records regarding human rights and living conditions for detained immigrants.”

The proposal was seconded by Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Gil Cedillo as well as Councilwoman Nury Martinez. The motion by Wesson is scheduled to be discussed by the full council July 3.

The United States incarcerates more people in a year than any other country in the world, and in recent years private prisons have taken on a greater share of the prisoner population, Wesson said, adding “The industry was started at the state level during the height of the war on drugs as governments failed to keep up their capacity with the rising inmate populations.”

Wesson said private detention centers are not subject to the same oversight and scrutiny as public prisons. He cited a U.S. Department of Justice study that found in 2016 that federally contracted private prisons had a significantly higher number of violations per inmate than public prisons.

The proposal also comes after a number of notable politicians pledged to curtail private prisons.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, a presidential candidate, said last week that she would try to ban private prison operations nationally if she’s elected.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom in February also entertained the idea of reeling in the state’s private prison industry.

Profiting off of locking people up will not fly in Los Angeles.”

—City Council President Herb Wesson

Wave Wire Services