In what a private prison company called an “unprecedented decision,” a federal jail in downtown San Diego was granted an exception to an executive order issued by President Joe Biden, allowing the facility to remain open.
Western Region Detention Facility has been the subject of extensive debate since January 2021, when Biden announced his executive order to phase out federal contracts with private prison companies.
Western Region, which is run by The Geo Group Inc., houses detainees for the U.S. Marshals Service awaiting trial and sentencing on federal charges.
The jail was expected to close in September and again in March, each time receiving last-minute reprieves to the surprise of employees and attorneys. The looming closure date was supposed to be Thursday.
But on June 24, GEO Group sent a letter to all employees at Western Region informing them that the facility would remain open.
“The United States Department of Justice filed for and received approval for an exception to President Biden’s Executive Order,” the letter reads.
“We are thankful to all of those who worked behind the scenes to achieve this great outcome,” it says.
According to the letter, GEO Group’s contract to operate the jail was extended through September 2023, and it could be extended through September 2027 if the Marshals Service decides to opt in to additional contract periods.
“We will continue to work to ensure that (Western Region) continues its operation indefinitely…,” the letter states. “This unprecedented decision is in part due to your exceptional performance. Thank you for all you do and for being part of a great team led by great leaders.”
The decision was praised by union officials representing the jail’s 300 employees, but it was lambasted by criminal justice reform advocates who argue it could encourage attempts to defy Biden’s executive order.
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