Friday, February 23, 2024

ICE kept a California immigrant in solitary confinement for two years, study finds

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement used solitary confinement in its detention centers more than 14,000 times between 2018 and 2023, including one California immigrant detained for 759 days, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report found that solitary placements in ICE facilities lasted on average about a month. Almost half exceeded 15 days.

Solitary confinement is used in ICE detention centers as a form of punishment as well as to protect certain at-risk immigrants.

Human rights groups say the practice is harmful and should be significantly reduced in all U.S. prisons and detention centers. The United Nations has called solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days a form of torture.

In recent years, ICE has been criticized by state officials and human rights groups for its reliance on the practice and its lack of proper oversight and oversight.

The 71-page report – one of the most in-depth to date on ICE’s use of solitary confinement – ​​was produced by researchers from Physicians for Human Rights, Harvard Law School and Harvard Medical School. It was based on internal ICE records at 125 detention centers obtained through Freedom of Information Act litigation.

Researchers said ICE’s use of solitary confinement and the time periods involved were both on track to grow in 2023, although its data was only collected through September 13.

“The harms are so well established that they are indisputable,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic. “That’s why the failure to make meaningful change is shocking.”

ICE spokesman Mike Alvarez said the agency only places detainees in solitary confinement after carefully considering alternatives.

“Placements in administrative segregation for a particular vulnerability should only be used as a last resort,” Alvarez said. “Segregation is never used as a method of retaliation.”

About 700 solitary placements lasted at least 90 days and 42 lasted more than a year, according to the report.

The longest solitary confinement case was that of a Mexican woman held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego for 759 consecutive days until December 2, 2019. Her placement was coded as “requested detainer” and the reasoning was listed as “other.” “, although the record also shows a disciplinary infraction for fighting, said Arevik Avedian, director of empirical research services at Harvard Law School.

Two other cases were longer, but they were not included in the report because they were still ongoing at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Washington, as of September 13 – for 817 and 811 days, respectively.

ICE standards generally limit disciplinary confinement to 30 days per violation. But administrative segregation, considered non-punitive and intended for the inmate’s safety, can be indefinite.

ICE did not list the mental health status of isolated immigrants in each case. But of the nearly 8,800 records containing mental health information, about 40% reported mental health problems.

For people who identified as transgender, the average length of solitary confinement was two months, the researchers said.

Alvarez said ICE does not place detainees in solitary confinement solely because of mental illness unless medical personnel request or recommend it. Detainees are often placed there because they are requesting preventive detention, following a disciplinary hearing or to be quarantined if no medical accommodation is available.

Inmates with mental health problems are cared for by medical professionals, he explained, and are removed from solitary confinement if they believe it has led to a deterioration in their health and a suitable alternative is available.

About 38,500 immigrants were in ICE custody as of Jan. 28, according to TRAC, a nonpartisan research organization at Syracuse University. Two-thirds of those arrested have no criminal record and many others have only minor offenses, such as traffic violations.

ICE has said it is moving to reduce its use of solitary confinement over the past decade.

The agency issued a 2013 directive limiting its use, particularly for vulnerable people, such as a disability or mental illness.

A 2015 memo emphasized the protection of transgender people, specifying that solitary confinement “should only be used as a last resort.”

A 2022 directive strengthened protections and reporting requirements for people with mental health issues in solitary confinement.

Inmates held in solitary confinement are isolated in small cells, away from the general population, for up to 24 hours a day and have minimal contact with other people. Prolonged solitary confinement is known to have adverse health effects, including risks of suicide and brain damage.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed a 2022 bill that would have regulated and significantly reduced solitary confinement in jails, prisons and ICE facilities.

Reports from watchdog agencies have repeatedly identified failures in ICE’s approach and oversight of solitary confinement.

In 2021, the California Department of Justice released a review of ICE detention in the state, with an in-depth review of three private facilities. The Cal DOJ found little distinction between the conditions of inmates in administrative segregation and those held for disciplinary reasons. The agency also found that inmates with mental illnesses were placed in solitary confinement despite their worsening conditions in isolation.

“Most inmates in solitary confinement are in their cells 22 hours a day and when they are allowed out, they generally breed in individual cages,” the California report said.

That same year, a report from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found that ICE was not consistently complying with solitary confinement reporting requirements. Investigators analyzed records from fiscal years 2015 through 2019 and found that ICE did not maintain evidence showing it considered alternatives to solitary confinement in 72% of solitary confinement placements.

Citing that report, Democratic senators, including the late Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Alex Padilla of California, pressed ICE leaders on the agency’s “excessive and seemingly indiscriminate use of solitary confinement,” calling it long-standing problem.

A 2022 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that information about inmates’ vulnerabilities and explanations for what led to their placement in solitary confinement was inconsistent. GAO analyzed segregation placements from 2017 to 2021 and found that about 40% were for disciplinary reasons and 60% were for administrative reasons, such as protective custody.

ICE says facility staff are required to provide people in administrative segregation with the same privileges as those living in general housing, including recreation, visits, law library and telephone access. They might also spend more time out of isolation socializing or doing volunteer tasks such as cleaning. Privileges granted to individuals placed in disciplinary segregation vary depending on the level of supervision required.

But two dozen former inmates interviewed by the report’s authors said they had limited or no access to phone calls, recreation, medical care and medication.

Karim Golding, 39, of Jamaica, was detained by ICE from 2016 to 2021. At the Etowah County Detention Center in Alabama, which ICE stopped using in 2022 due to its “long history of serious impairments,” Golding said he spent nearly two months in prison. solitary confinement after testing positive for COVID-19. He now lives in New York.

Golding said that at the height of the pandemic, when the facility was allowing busloads of new inmates without following proper distancing or isolation guidelines, he urged staff to provide testing. He and other inmates submitted dozens of sick calls requesting tests.

When the staff finally complied, he and several others were placed in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus. He said he believed the move was retaliation.

Golding remembers sometimes spending 40 hours straight in his dingy 8-by-10-foot cell with holes in the concrete walls and no access to a shower. The isolation was lonely, he remembers.

“One night I fell asleep and woke up choking in the cell,” he said. “I started crying because there was no panic button inside these cells. There were no officers, nothing to help.

Two other detainees contacted by The Times said they were held in solitary confinement in facilities in Texas and Louisiana for several days while on hunger strike.

As a candidate, President Biden pledged to end the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. He signed an executive order in 2022 promising to ensure that incarcerated people are “free from prolonged segregation.”

The authors of Tuesday’s report called on Biden to phase out the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention.

“There is still time,” Ardalan said. “That’s a legacy he could leave from his administration.”

Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from



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