RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A bill requiring that immigrant detention facilities meet Virginia’s health and safety standards has been signed into law by Governor Ralph Northam.
Senate Bill 5017, introduced by Virginia Senator Jennifer Boysko, expands the definition of “local correctional facility” to include the two Virginia immigration detention facilities that are contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Caroline County Detention Center and Immigration Centers of America-Farmville are now considered local correctional facilities.
“SB 5017 will give the Commonwealth the ability to set minimum health and sanitation standards, conduct inspections, and prohibit new transfers in substandard facilities,” Sen. Boysko told 8News.
Before this new law, the Code of Virginia did not specify that the state had the authority to carry out health and sanitary inspections at facilities in a Virginia town or county operating under a contract with the federal government.
The new law will allow the state to carry out yearly and emergency health inspections, and wrongful death investigations at ICA-Farmville and Caroline County Detention Center.
SB 5017 was a direct response to COVID-19 outbreaks at both Virginia ICE detention facilities.
The coronavirus outbreak at Farmville infected over 300 people detained at the facility from June to early July — the worst COVID-19 outbreak at an ICE detention center in the United States. A 72-year-old Canadian man who was in custody at the detention center died in August.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted an investigation after multiple Virginia leaders sent letters to President Donald Trump requesting that the CDC intervene.
In September, the Caroline County Detention Center had a spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Virginia now has a clear statutory mandate to ensure the wellbeing of people detained in Farmville and Caroline, and we need to make sure the Commonwealth takes aggressive steps to respond to this pandemic and prevent more sickness and death behind bars,” Luis Oyola with the Legal Aid Justice Center said in a release.
The law now allows the state board of local and regional jails to do the following:
- Set minimum sanitation standards
- Order unannounced inspections
- Allow the board to prohibit confinement and require the transfer of prisoners in substandard facilities
- Allow the board to review the death of an inmate
- Allow access to the facility for members of local governing bodies
There was pushback on this bill during a special session by Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) who said ICE detention centers should be left up to Congress to decide.
At that time, Peake expressed his concern over the economic impact the bill would have on the rural areas surrounding the Caroline County detention center and ICA Farmvile.
SB 5017 will go into effect early 2021.