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Washington passes bill aimed at shutting down Tacoma ICE detention center

High-security inmates at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. The red uniforms indicate that the detainee has been convicted of a violent crime. (Nicole Jennings/KIRO Radio)

The Washington Legislature has approved a bill aimed at shutting down one of the country’s largest for-profit, privately run immigration jails.

Led by majority Democrats, the state Senate voted 28-21 Tuesday in favor of HB 1090, effectively banning for-profit detention centers in the state.

The measure already passed the House and now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee, who opposes for-profit detention centers.

The 1,575-bed Northwest detention center in Tacoma is operated by the GEO Group under a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and it’s the only for-profit detention facility in the state.

The bill would allow GEO to continue operating the jail until its contract with ICE expires in 2025.

This marks the second year in a row that the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, has attempted to pass this measure. Her effort last year stalled out, after the 2020 iteration of her bill saw the proposed ban watered to eventually pass as a study on the existing authority of state agencies to inspect private prison facilities.

Approximately 65% of the population in the Northwest Detention Center has a “non-criminal” background; they were detained at the southern border and transferred to Washington to await the outcome of their immigration cases. Roughly 30% of those detainees are from Mexico, the next largest group is from India, and then the “northern triangle” of Central America.

Rep. Ortiz-Self cited concerns over the moral implications of for-profit prisons, but has also frequently singled out the Tacoma facility specifically, which has been the center of more than one controversy over the last year.

That includes an incident in April 2020, where 50 inmates at the facility participated in a hunger strike, spelling out the letters “SOS” in the yard of the detention center with their bodies. That marked the third hunger strike in as many weeks that month, including 300 people who participated during the first week of April.

Written by KIRO 7 TV reporter Gene Johnson

MyNorthwest staff contributed to this report

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