The Aug. 21, 2019, email revealed how immigrants at Cibola County Correctional Center — the only immigration jail with dedicated space for transgender women in the US — sometimes waited up to 17 days for urgently needed medical care, were exposed to poor sanitation and quarantine practices during a chickenpox and mumps outbreak, and didn’t get medications as directed by a doctor for illnesses such as diabetes, epilepsy, and tuberculosis. The advisers also said they saw immigrants in the transgender unit housed in an area that was not “appropriately cleaned and sanitized,” potentially contributing to the spread of infectious diseases.
As an example, the article’s lead speaks of a transgendered woman who reported to medical staff that she was bleeding from her rectum, and had to wait 15 days before any treatment was provided. It was then determined that she had HIV. The lack of care thus threatened not only her life, but endangered other people in the unit with her.
The conditions were reported to Immigration and Custom Enforcement’s Health Services in August of 2019. In September, CoreCivic, the private prison company that runs Cibola, issued a 90 Day “Corrective Action plan” that included changing the private medical services company they contracted with, Wellpath. Then,
ICE officials visited the facility in December 2019 to determine compliance with its detention standards, and during the visit, “it was determined that the deficiencies were not yet fully resolved and that detainees with chronic care issues should be removed. ICE immediately coordinated the transfer of all those with chronic medical issues to other detention facilities.”
In response to the situation at Cibola, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, noted that,
Cibola staff should have had strict sanitation standards given that the facility faced an outbreak of mumps and chickenpox in April 2019, leading to dozens of inmates being quarantined. Investigators found that a nurse who was providing medication in an infected and quarantined area of the prison continued wearing the same pair of gloves as she provided medication to immigrants in the noninfected area of the jail, which could spread infection. The advisers determined that the monthslong quarantine at the facility was likely “related” to these “poor medical practices.”
In January, 5 months after the initial reports of medical conditions, 27 trans women and 15 others with serious medical conditions were transferred to another facility. CoreCivic is still running the facility, of course.
Long history of CoreCivic neglect
CoreCivic is one of the largest private prison companies in the world, second only to the Geo Group. CoreCivic and Geo Group are the two largest private contractors with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) incarcerating immigrants. Between them, the two companies control over half of the detention capacity of ICE.
The entry of private prison companies receiving federal contracts for incarceration began with immigrant detention. CoreCivic received the first such contract in 1984 for what is now the Houston Processing Center (at the time CoreCivic was called Corrections Corporation of America). In the years since, Core Civic and the Geo Group have garnered extensive contracts managing federal and some state prison facilities. You can search through over 120 facilities to find one “near you” on CoreCivic’s website.
Over the last 5 years the number of people being held in federal prisons has been declining. Some of this has to do with changes in drug sentencing laws, and it also reflects a national trend of declining incarceration across the country. As we noted yesterday, this is good news - unless your budget and/or business is dependent on money for incarcerating people.
Cibola County Correctional Facility is in Milan, New Mexico, and is about the only business in the area. For over twenty years it was a federal prison operated under contract with CoreCivic. CoreCivic briefly lost the contract in 2016 following reports of inmate deaths resulting from, you can guess right: Medical neglect. We quote at length below from a section from Nation’s investigative report in 2016:
A November 2008 report on Cibola—one of the earliest we obtained—documented a significant finding in health services. Many federal prisons struggle to fully staff their medical departments, but Cibola was operating without a single doctor. (Burns says CCA occasionally uses “temporary physician providers” in such cases.) Prisoners were suffering from the prison’s “failure to recognize the potential seriousness of incomplete medical care.”
In 2009, experts identified repeat deficiencies in Cibola’s clinic. Yet in 2010, the BOP signed a second 10-year contract with CCA. The facility soon plummeted into disrepair.
In March 2011, the on-site monitors issued a notice of concern after the death of a prisoner: The facility had finally hired a doctor, but for at least three months he had not examined a “deteriorating” inmate who later died of cancer. By 2012, Cibola was again without a physician. The nursing staff was “working without clinical guidance,” monitors wrote. By April 2014, Cibola was in crisis: Monitors logged 11 repeat, double-repeat, or triple-repeat deficiencies and flagged another significant finding in health services: “Many issues from previous monitorings have not been corrected.” Cibola lacked a fully staffed medical department for months at a time.
In July 2014, Blas Humberto Gutierrez-Lujan, 44, collapsed in his cell. The LPN who responded did not remain in the cell to perform CPR. Twenty-six minutes passed before emergency responders arrived. “Earlier intervention is crucial in the management of cardiac arrest,” the monitors wrote. Gutierrez-Lujan died later that day, at a local hospital. Two months later, the BOP extended CCA’s Cibola contract for another two years.
In October 2014, one month after the renewal, medical monitors returned. They found five uncorrected problems they had identified on previous visits. For a fifth consecutive time, the prison wasn’t properly treating TB-positive inmates. For the third time, HIV care was found to be inadequate. For the fourth time, monitors found that inmates were not receiving proper health assessments.
It appeared that CCA had finally crossed a line. In January 2015, contracting officials issued a cure notice, warning CCA that Cibola faced closure if the company didn’t turn medical care around by April. “Cure notices are usually just a formality,” says Joshua Schwartz, a professor of government-contracts law at George Washington University. “You send the letter and then end the contract. It should not get to that point.”
In March, another new inmate arrived at Cibola, 39-year-old Jelacio Martinez-Lopez. He came with a form from the US Marshals indicating that he had been on suicide watch at a facility where he’d been held previously. Yet Martinez was not immediately seen for a mental-health evaluation. Twelve days later, guards found him dead, hanging in his solitary cell. The BOP’s review, and then CCA’s own internal postmortem report, concluded that he should have been evaluated and treated within two days of his arrival.
In April, when the monitors returned, they listed the failures preceding Martinez’s death as a repeat deficiency. Yet CCA still operates the prison today. This September, the facility will be up for another two-year extension. The BOP has issued only five cure notices to its private-prison operators since 2007. Not once has the BOP terminated a contract for default.
Donna Mott retired in January 2014. Not long after her departure, the Department of Justice’s inspector general launched an investigation into how the BOP monitors its contract prisons. It also announced an audit of CCA’s management of Adams. Neither report has been released. But monitoring reports at Adams have shown signs of ongoing dereliction. In January 2015, monitors found that at least five inmates had died in the preceding year in the wake of substandard medical care. The monitors issued yet another significant finding in health services. Perhaps because federal watchdogs were now paying attention, contracting officials in Washington imposed a large, $811,000 deduction. Then the contract was quietly extended for another two years.
In 2017, following this well documented history of health services neglect, Immigration and Customs Enforcement granted a $150 million dollar, five-year contract to CoreCivic to repurpose the prison for immigrant incarceration. Of course they did. And they did this without an open bidding process, by issuing the contract in cooperation with Cibola County, which receives some small portion of the funds. From Reveal News in 2017:
In March [of 2017], ICE began sending millions of dollars to Cibola County, which in turn forwards the money to CoreCivic, as spelled out in an “intergovernmental agreement” between ICE and the county and a subcontract between the county and CoreCivic.
The deal allows Cibola County – where about 38 percent of households live on less than $25,000 a year, according to American Community Survey statistics – to retain a miniscule portion of the funds as an administrative fee.
According to the subcontract and county treasurer, the county keeps 50 cents per detainee per day, while CoreCivic, a $3.7 billion company, receives a lump sum fixed payment of $2.5 million monthly, whether zero or 847 detainees are being held. (At 848, ICE pays $55.43 per additional detainee per day.) Documents obtained by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting show daily counts ranging between 268 and 784 detainees over March, April and May. Neither the warden nor ICE responded to multiple requests for the current detainee population.
This is the immigrant detention business in the United States today. Local government dependency on federal contracts leads to deals between counties and ICE and sometimes private companies, for incarcerating immigrants. The point of which is clearly not about security but about money - filling in budget shortfalls, localities fearful of employment losses if prisons close and so on.
And the result is that people die. It is unfathomable that CoreCivic still has this contract, and has simply deflected blame onto the private firm it subcontracted with.
We must end immigrant incarceration. Abolish ICE.
Until we can do this, you can take action to support the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act.