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Watchdog Finds Hanging ‘Nooses,’ Lack Of Medical Care At ICE Detention Center

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
  • A new report from the Department of Homeland Security’s official watchdog found that an immigration detention facility in California routinely ignored the presence of makeshift “nooses” in detainees’ cells.
  • The DHS Office of Inspector General report also said Adelanto ICE Processing Center center failed to provide adequate medical care to detainees in custody.
  • Staff also inappropriately placed inmates into disciplinary segregation in violation of ICE detention standards, the report found.

Supervisors at a privately-operated immigration detention center in California routinely ignored the presence of makeshift “nooses” in detainees’ cells, one of several areas where the facility failed to meet federal detention standards, according to a government watchdog report released Tuesday.

Surprise inspections of the Adelanto Processing Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility run by private prison company GEO Group, turned up braided bed sheets hanging from ceiling vents.

The sheets, referred to as “nooses” by detention center staff, were found in 15 of the 20 cells visited by investigators with the Department of Security’s Office of Inspector General (DHS-OIG).

Detainees told inspectors the braided sheets are often used as clotheslines or as a privacy barrier between cell beds and toilets. They also serve a more disturbing purpose: Detainees have used them to hang themselves.

“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,” a detainee told investigators, according to the DHS-OIG report.

Inspectors said Adelanto Center staffers have not taken the bed sheet nooses seriously, despite multiple instances of attempted and successful suicide by hanging at the facility in recent years. An Adelanto detainee died in March 2017 after being found hanging from a bed sheet, and ICE reports show at least two other instances of attempted suicide using a bed sheet noose, according to the DHS-OIG report.

“ICE’s lack of response to address this matter at the Adelanto Center shows a disregard for detainee health and safety,” the report stated.

Other chronic problems at Adelanto include inappropriate use of “disciplinary segregation” as punishment for alleged wrongdoing and inadequate medical care for detainees, according to the OIG report. Staffers allegedly violated ICE detention standards by removing detainees from the general population even though a disciplinary panel had not found them guilty of violating facility rules.

Both segregated and general population inmates were denied “appropriate and necessary” medical and dental care, the report also found. Between November 2017 and April 2018, detainees filed 80 medical grievances for not receiving urgent care, not being treated by a doctor for chronic conditions, and not receiving prescribed medications.

The report on the Adelanto inspections comes on the same day as a separate DHS-OIG review of facilities for unaccompanied alien children operated by Customs and Border Protection. That report found CBP to be in compliance with agency detention standards, but said hundreds of children had been kept in temporary processing facilities for longer than the 72 hours permitted by a federal court order. (RELATED: Here’s What Inspectors Found When They Made Surprise Visits To Immigrant Children In Custody)

In a written response to the inspector general report on Adelanto, ICE executive associate director Nathalie Asher did not specifically address the bed sheet noose issue, but said the agency concurred with the report’s recommendation to “review and ensure compliance” with housekeeping standards.

The OIG report “lacks important context” with respect to segregated detention practices, particularly instances where a detainee must be separated from other inmates to ensure their safety, Asher added.

A spokesperson for GEO Group referred questions about the OIG report to ICE management.

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