By John Newton
In May of 2012 the ACLU of Georgia issued a report entitled “Prisoners of Profit” documenting the substandard living conditions of four Georgia detention facilities with large immigrant populations: North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville, Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Atlanta City Detention Center, and Stewart Detention Center, a 1,752-bed medium-security all-male facility in Lumpkin, Ga., the largest such facility in the U.S.
Based on personal interviews with prisoners, family members and prison personnel, the 180 page report is meticulously documented and contains 65 pages of footnotes and references.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains over 30,000 individuals across the country every day in more than 250 facilities, including privately run facilities, facilities run by ICE, and prisons and jails run by local governments. Almost half of all immigrant detainees are housed in private for-profit facilities owned by corporations like the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and Detention Management, LLC, which operate three of the four facilities featured in the ACLU report.
As the number of immigrants detained annually approaches half a million, the prison-like conditions of immigration detention facilities and the substandard treatment afforded to the detainees are an area of increasing concern. Although it has been claimed that privatization of detention facilities is cost-effective, this proposition has been cast into serious doubt.What has been confirmed is the systemic violation of immigrant detainees’ civil and human rights while detained in substandard prison-like conditions ill suited for civil detainees.
From 2003 until October 2011, 126 detainees died while in ICE detention. Three detainees have died in Georgia detention centers while in ICE custody between 2008 and 2011 and all three of these deaths occurred at facilities run by CCA.
Detainees in each of the four facilities reported instances where ICE officers, deportation officers, and even immigration judges attempted to coerce detainees to sign stipulated orders of removal that allow for deportation of non-citizens without a hearing before an immigration judge.
Many Spanish speaking detainees also reported that they were pressured by deportation officers to sign documents written in English that they could not understand. As Stewart has the highest deportation rate in the country at 98.8 percent, with the Stewart Immigration Court having issued 8,731 deportation orders in 2010, these practices pose particularly serious concerns. Although the majority of immigrant detainees in Georgia only speak Spanish, the majority of detention facility staff and medical staff do not and it is a common practice to have other detainees interpret for them.
All of the facilities exhibited problems with detainees’ access to legal information. At ACDC, none of the detainees interviewed had been provided access to information about their basic legal rights. Detainees at Irwin, Stewart, and NGDC complained of not being notified of pro bono services and not being given a list of pro bono attorneys upon entry into the facilities. Detainees at Stewart have limited access to the law library and the materials are insufficient for detainees who require such access to prepare their cases for immigration relief.
The ACLU of Georgia is particularly troubled by Stewart’s remote location that effectively cuts detainees off from attorneys and family, consistent accounts of substandard living conditions including spoiled food and non-potable water, and insufficient physical and mental health care staffing levels.
The report documented numerous problems with food services at Stewart, including long periods between meal times, guards rushing detainees through their meals, and small meal portions.Even more troubling were the numerous instances where detainees were served rancid or expired food or found foreign objects in their meals.
According to international human rights standards, detainees’ right to humane treatment while in custody includes a right to hygienic conditions. Detainees complained of being given old and recycled razor blades in direct violation of ICE’s policy which requires that razors be disposable and provided on a daily basis so that they are not shared. The rationale for this is to prevent the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. At the Irwin facility, the underwear women are given upon arrival is often used, even showing stains or signs that it is not properly washed. As a result of wearing soiled undergarments, one female detainee developed a serious infection that ultimately left scars on her legs and genitals.
Detainees at Stewart face barriers to phone access, including prohibitively high phone charges, a high rate of technical problems with Stewart’s phone system, and lack of privacy for callers. All of these factors seriously impact detainees’ ability to communicate with their attorneys and families.
Women often end up in detention because they were victims of abuse. Over half the women interviewed for the ACLU report had been victims of domestic violence.Veronica and Maria Francisco said they had never called the police when they were being beaten by their partners because they were afraid of being arrested and deported, which would hurt not only them but their children as well.
According to the report, these fears were well-founded. After Veronica was placed in detention for no insurance and driving without a license, her three U.S.-born children were shipped back to Mexico when she was unable to find a suitable home for them in the U.S. Maria’s husband actually threatened to call ICE and have her deported if she complained about the beatings. She believed him and never called for help but her worst fears came true as she was finally arrested after police arrived at her home in response to a domestic violence call.
According to the ACLU report, non-citizens have due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution that are being routinely violated by the detention facilities they investigated.
The ACLU report concludes with a call for immigrant detention reforms that include:
· Mandatory detention of immigrants must end;
· ICE should employ greater use of prosecutorial discretion to ensure that immigrants who pose no danger or flight risk are released from detention;
· ICE should provide meaningful bond hearings to all eligible detainees; should make greater use of alternatives to detention, especially community-based approaches;
· ICE should promulgate a set of strengthened detention standards which are binding on all facilities holding immigrant detainees;
· ICE should terminate contracts with facilities that fail to meet its standards.
• ICE should stop detaining immigrants at the Stewart facility given the extent of the violations and the remote location of the facility.
To view a complete .pdf of this report, please use this link: www.acluga.org/Prisoners_of_Profit.pdf