Bill signed into law in Washington State will phase out private prisons. Groups call for immediate closure of the notorious Northwest Detention Center 

For Immediate Release: 
Thursday, April 15, 2021

Seattle, WA  — Today, after years of sustained local activism led by immigrant rights groups in Washington including, La Resistencia and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Governor Inslee signed HB1090 into law that will ban the operation of a private detention facility or prison by any person, business, state or local government entity. The bill will eventually close the state’s notorious Northwest Detention Center (NWDC), once the contract terminates, however advocates are demanding the facility be shut down immediately.

“The Northwest Detention Center is emblematic of how ICE’s detention system is fundamentally flawed beyond repair — facilities need to be shut down now,” said Maru Mora Villalpando of La Resistencia. “This is a win for the people who are subjected to ICE’s abuse and terror—our family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors. No one should be in immigration detention.”

“This win is significant and underscores the groundswell of communities across the country leading efforts to shut down ICE detention centers as the Biden administration has been woefully slow to act,” said Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network and Washington State resident. “With the passage of HB1090, and Keep Washington Working, which previously phased out the use of county jails for ICE detention, Washington State now bans the most common forms of ICE detention. States across the country are passing laws to do the same. This should be the signal for the federal system as a whole to move in the same direction.”  

NWDC is owned and operated by the GEO Group, Inc. in Tacoma, Washington where for years people have gone on hunger strike to protest their incarceration and demand freedom. The facility, like all detention centers, is plagued with egregious conditions, including rotten food, substandard medical care, abuse by guards, and the rampant use of solitary confinement. In 2017 state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued GEO over $1-a-day wages at the facility. Most strikingly however, is the death by suicide of Mergensana Amar in 2018 at the Northwest Detention Center after he was held on and off in solitary confinement for extended periods of time. Freedom of Information Act documents revealed last year that Amar was restrained over the objections of hospital staff, even after he was declared dead and ICE opted to not follow its own policies with regard to death notifications.

Washington State now joins California and Illinois in their statewide ban on private prisons and immigration detention, and more than two dozen other states with similar or pending legislation including the Dignity Not Detention Act in Maryland that passed the general assembly this week and is on Governor Hogan’s desk awaiting signature. Advocates say that although the focus of the legislation is on phasing out privately run detention centers which account for over 80 percent of ICE’s detention system the call to abolish detention should not be pigeonholed to private prison corporations alone. 

“Local governments are also incentivized to cooperate with ICE and build or expand detention facilities as a means to bring in more funding for their dwindling budgets. Financial incentives are pervasive in immigration detention,” added Shah. “Whether run by a local government, by ICE, or by a corporation, detention centers are rife with systemic abuses  — immigration detention must be abolished.” 


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.