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Scathing Report Describes Serious Safety Issues at Private Immigration Detention Center

Inspectors probing the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center observed multiple nooses, found prisoners sent to solitary confinement in violation of protocol and a dentist recommending patients floss using sock strings.

The Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center / Photo by Mario Koran

A scathing report by the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General found the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center, roughly 85 miles northeast of Los Angeles and run by the private GEO Group, found significant health and safety concerns in the facility, including nooses in detainee cells, improper and overly restrictive segregation and inadequate detainee medical care.

The report resulted from an unannounced inspection of the facility in May. It’s the latest in years’ worth of problems plaguing the facility, which holds many asylum-seekers who turn themselves in at California’s border and immigrants arrested by ICE throughout Southern California, including a couple who ended up in detention and deportation proceedings after being pulled over by San Diego Sheriff’s deputies near Mission Bay last summer.

“While at the center, we identified serious issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care that require ICE’s immediate attention,” the report reads. “These issues not only constitute violations of ICE detention standards but also represent significant threats to the safety, rights, and health of detainees.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Kamala Harris, who has written bills aimed at improving oversight of immigration detention facilities, slammed the conditions at Adelanto in a statement to VOSD.

“Sen. Harris has fiercely opposed this administration’s indiscriminate approach to immigration enforcement that harms public safety,” said Brenda Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Harris. “As Sen. Harris has noted, it is unconscionable to subject detainees to inhumane conditions, including issues of sexual abuse, medical negligence, spoiled or rotten food at this facility and other immigrant detention facilities. Those in charge must be held accountable.”

The first issue was the nooses, or braided bedsheets hanging from vents in 15 of the 20 male detainee cells that were observed during the visits.

Some detainees told them they did this for temporary privacy, if they were using the bathroom for example and others told them they used them as clothes.

One detainee told inspectors, though, “I’ve seen a few attempted suicides using the braided sheets by the vents and then the guards laugh at them and call them ‘suicide failures’ once they are back from medical.”

The hanging sheets are sometimes used in suicide attempts and are against ICE’s own regulations, according to the report, which goes on to lay out why detainee suicides are a real concern:

In March 2017, a 32-year old male died at an area hospital after being found hanging from his bedsheets in an Adelanto cell. In the months after the suicide, ICE compliance reports documented at least three suicide attempts by hanging at Adelanto, two of which specifically used bedsheets. Media reports based on 911 call logs indicate at least four other suicide attempts at the center from December 2016 to July 2017. In total, the reports represent at least seven suicide attempts at the Adelanto Center from December 2016 to October 2017. Nationwide, self-inflicted strangulation accounts for four of the 20 detainee deaths reported between October 2016 to July 2018, according to ICE news releases. The most recent ICE detainee death, on July 10 at the Stewart Detention Facility in Georgia was tentatively identified by ICE as a result of self-inflicted strangulation.

The IG report also found that detainees at Adelanto were inappropriately placed in disciplinary segregation. Disciplinary segregation is when detainees are put in solitary confinement as punishment. Individuals in solitary confinement are generally held alone in small cells for 23 hours a day with no contact with other people. Many researchers and human rights groups have equated solitary confinement with psychological torture, saying it can physically and mental deteriorate prisoners’ well-being and violate their their rights.

There were 14 detainees in disciplinary segregation during the inspectors’ visit, but after a review of their files, inspectors found that center employees had placed all of them there before they were found guilty of a prohibited act or rule violation – despite an ICE standard that detainees only be placed in disciplinary segregation after a panel finds him or her guilty of breaking a rule.

“Yet, based on file reviews and interviews with GEO Group staff, the Adelanto Center places detainees in disciplinary segregation prior to a guilty finding and a written order for segregation. GEO Group staff indicated it is the center’s practice to place all detainees directly in disciplinary segregation after an alleged incident to prevent further issues with the detainee,” the report says.

Inspectors also found that a disabled detainee who had requested to be placed in administrative segregation – which isn’t considered punitive by ICE – was placed in disciplinary segregation. Based on a review of the detainee’s file, inspectors found that the detainee never left his wheelchair to sleep in a bed or brush his teeth during his nine days in disciplinary segregation. They also observed medical staff “just looking in his cell and stamping his medical visitation sheet rather than evaluation the detainee.” He was only removed after the inspectors raised the issue of his segregation.

The report also highlighted a lack of language and communication assistance in disciplinary segregation for detainees who don’t speak English, and the improper use of handcuffs and shackles.

Finally, the report lays out issues in the medical care provided to detainees. According to the report between November 2017 and April 2018, detainees form Adelanto filed 80 medical grievances – about 34 percent of total grievances filed during that period – for not receiving urgent care when needed, not being seen for persistent health conditions for months and not receiving prescribed medicine.

Medical care issues have long plagued the Adelanto facility.

A 2012 report by ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight found deficiencies in medical care, including in a specific case of one detainee who died of alcoholic liver disease, sepsis, multi-organ failure and bronchopneumonia that year. The ODO concluded “the detainee’s death could have been prevented and that the detainee received an unacceptable level of medical care while detained” in Adelanto.

In 2015, another detainee died while in custody in Adelanto and a report reviewing his death raised several deficiencies in his medical care at Adelanto.

The detainee was transferred to Adelanto in 2014. He had been complaining since 2012 of fever, vomiting, weight loss and other gastrointestinal problems and was simply given pain relievers like Ibuprofen, medicine for constipation and diarrhea and authorized for additional snacks or toilet paper, according to the report.

Eventually in March 2015, a doctor, who was examining him for the first time, found an abdominal mass that was “the largest she has ever seen in her practice.” Based on its size, the tumor had likely been present for months, she said, according to the report.

In 2017, detainees began a hunger strike over conditions at the facility, including the denial of medical care. The group of detainees, who are asylum-seekers, have since sued ICE and the GEO Group over their brutal treatment by guards in response to the hunger strike.

This most recent inspector general report also found problems in dental care. No detainees had received dental cleanings in almost four years, according to the report. The report also found that although the center’s two dentists had identified cavities and placed detainees on waitlists for fillings, no detainees had received fillings in four years.

One detainee interviewed by inspectors reported having multiple teeth fall out while waiting more than two years for cavities to be filled.

“When we asked one of the dentists why fillings were not performed, he said he barely has time to do cleanings and screening, so as a result he does not do fillings,” the report reads.

A center dentist also told inspectors during an interview that he “only provides ‘palliative care’ and does not have time to complete cleanings or fillings.”

“The dentist dismissed the necessity of fillings if patients commit to brushing and flossing,” the report reads.

Floss is only available to detainees through commissary accounts. Commissaries at these private detention facilities provide additional food or products that detainees can pay for.

Although floss was only available through the commissary, the dentist told inspectors that “detainees could use string from their socks to floss if they were dedicated to dental hygiene.”

In 2017, the California Legislature passed bills to phase out the state’s use of private prison companies like GEO Group over the next 10 years and to block the expansion of private immigration detention facilities in the state.

The Legislature also granted the state attorney general additional oversight of immigration detention facilities in California. The law granting the attorney general that power is one of three passed last year collectively known as the “sanctuary state laws” over which the Trump administration is suing to invalidate.

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