August 23, 2019
With the increased spotlight on ICE facilities, news about detainee mistreatment is more likely to break in the mainstream media. Among the historic patterns of abuse in ICE facilities is the inadequate provision of health services to people detained, the use of solitary confinement, and the combined tragedy of mis(or un)diagnosed mental health issues being exacerbated by torture visited upon people held in detention facilities. So, no surprise that an internal ICE evaluation found that the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia failed to provide adequate care to a man in their facility who ultimately committed suicide. From CBS News:
The document, known as a "detainee death review," found staff at the agency's Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, didn't refer Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph for an "urgent mental health assessment," even after he reported auditory hallucinations and told staff he was trying to kill himself when he jumped from a second-tier balcony. Jimenez-Joseph was held in solitary confinement for 18 days in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, where he ultimately hanged himself. The treatment of the 27-year-old Panamanian man while in ICE custody has drawn outrage from immigrant rights advocates concerned over the agency's treatment of mentally ill detainees, particularly the use of "segregation," when detainees are isolated in a small cell for disciplinary or other "administrative" reasons.
Full story here with video.
The overuse of solitary confinement in immigrant detention facilities was the focus of an extensive report by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in May this year. We profiled the report and the companion Intercept article released with it in the Daily Dispatch alongside other reports on solitary confinement in prisons and jails. From that earlier Dispatch, with quotes from the Intercept:
The U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on Torture has strongly spoken out against the use of solitary confinement except in the most extraordinary circumstances when all other options have been tried to protect a prisoner or detainee, or if they pose a unique threat to others, and then only used on a very limited bases. The U.N. has argued that use of solitary confinement in excess of 15 days constitutes torture.
Of the 8,400 cases reviewed over half of them were in excess of 15 days. 573 in excess of 90 days, and in 32 cases people were held in solitary for over a year. From the Intercept:
In nearly a third of the cases, detainees were described as having a mental illness, which made them especially vulnerable to breakdown if locked up alone in a small cell. Records reviewed by ICIJ describe detainees in isolation mutilating their genitals, gouging their eyes, cutting their wrists, and smearing their cells with feces.
The review found that immigrants held in the agency’s isolation cells had suffered hallucinations, fits of anger, and suicidal impulses. Former detainees told ICIJ that they experienced sleeplessness, flashbacks, depression, and memory loss long after release.
“People were being brutalized,” said Ellen Gallagher, who currently holds a supervisory role in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Gallagher has tried for years to sound the alarm within her agency about a wide range of abusive uses of solitary confinement at ICE detention centers.
Stewart Detention Center has already been the focus of increased scrutiny for many years. In 2016, organizations joined forces to demand its closure because of systemic abuse of detainees and inadequate services. The Center is run under contract with CoreCivic, one of the two giants of the private prison industry (the other is the GEO Group). There is currently an effort to get members of Congress from Georgia to investigate conditions at the facility. The Quixote Center signed onto a letter, coordinated by Project South, that details some of the conditions at this facility asking for this investigation. The letter has not been released yet - but a few details documented in the letter about Stewart:
Immigrants have reported overcrowding and unsanitary conditions, including moldy shower heads and urinals, not being provided with sufficient undergarments, and lack of access to clean water. Many immigrants have reported being hungry and malnourished from waiting up to seven hours between meals and food that is sometimes spoiled or has foreign objects in it including hair, plastic, bugs, rocks and mice. The diet at Stewart has created many complications for immigrants with medical conditions and dietary restrictions. Many immigrants reported having lost between ten and seventy pounds while detained at Stewart due to the inedible food.
The documentation on lack of access to adequate healthcare is extensive - indeed, Stewart was cited for its lack of provision of adequate health services in 2012! While the contract for the provision of health services has changed, inadequate health services remain a continual source of criticism of conditions at Stewart and most other detention facilities. Stewart is one of the facilities that has come under criticism for the use of forced labor - remunerating workers at the rate of $1 a day in the context of a nominally “voluntary” work program, but which at Stewart and other facilities run by CoreCivic, is not truly voluntary and used to subsidize the company which saves money by using detainees for cleaning and cooking services. The immigration court at Stewart also has the highest deportation rate of any court in the country.
Stewart is among the worst facilities in a network of truly horrible spaces used to cage people - all of whom are being detained - in theory - as a temporary administrative hold while awaiting adjudication of their immigration status. They are not facing criminal charges or “serving time” for a crime. Incarceration for this purpose is not necessary, and the way it is practiced in this country, it is torture.