During an unannounced inspection in November 2022 of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that the center did not comply with all required federal detention standards.
Operated by CoreCivic, Stewart Detention Center (Stewart) began housing detainees in 2006. Between November 10, 2021, and November 9, 2022, Stewart had an average daily population of 1,088 detainees, with a maximum capacity of 1,966. Based on the contract with ICE, Stewart County receives nearly $3.3 million a month to house ICE detainees.
OIG found that Stewart complied with standards for the voluntary work program, law libraries and legal materials, and facility conditions. For example, Stewart regularly provided clean clothing, linen, and hygiene items. Detainees in housing units did not have complaints or concerns about access to personal hygiene items or laundry when questioned, and facility staff ensured the facility had sufficient clothing and linen in inventory to meet detainees’ needs.
However, the center did not meet all standards for special management units, custody classification, grievances, staff-detainee communication, and medical care, which OIG said compromised the health, safety, and rights of detainees. Inspectors noted that Stewart also “inappropriately and repeatedly disciplined detainees who should have been placed in administrative segregation”.
OIG observed commingling of high and low custody detainees. In one instance, inspectors observed 11 detainees of both high and low custody levels sitting together in a conference room during departure preparations. An ICE official told OIG that commingling is a recurring issue frequently observed during movement activities when detainees are escorted through the halls to get meals or travel to recreation. Another ICE official said that commingling also occurs when detainees are boarding the bus for transport. The ICE official explained that facility staff will perform a correction on the spot if made aware that commingling is occurring.
The grievance and staff detainee communication programs at Stewart were both found to be deficient. OIG reviewed detainee grievances submitted during the 6 months prior to the unannounced site visit (May 9, 2022, through November 4, 2022) and determined responses from facility staff were not always timely, and in some cases, staff did not respond at all.
When OIG asked Stewart leadership and staff to provide the logs of detainees’ paper requests, they responded that staff did not log paper requests but did place the requests in the detainee files. Stewart leadership added that no other inspection entity had ever told them they were required to keep a paper request log.
For medical grievances, OIG determined that medical staff only responded to 10 of 82 grievances (12 percent) that detainees submitted electronically. Of those 10 responses, only four responses were provided within the required five working days. Further, OIG said the medical department had not logged or tracked paper medical grievances received for at least one month and could not determine how many or what type of medical grievances had been filed by detainees.
Numerous detainees in multiple housing units told OIG that ICE infrequently visited their housing pods (the living areas in housing units). Consequently, OIG reviewed the ICE visit logbooks from Stewart’s seven housing units and determined ICE did not always provide frequent, informal access to ICE staff or do so in accordance with the schedule posted in the detainee housing pods. For one housing unit, ICE staff did not log visiting for 22 consecutive days between September 10, 2022, and October 3, 2022. In many instances, ICE staff spent less than five minutes in housing units, which can include up to six housing pods, on the scheduled visit days. OIG concluded that It is unlikely ICE staff would be able to visit all housing pods in a housing unit and answer detainee questions within that period of time.
Inspectors found that some detainees were housed before completing an initial health screening. In addition, OIG said the Stewart medical unit was not appropriately conducting “sick call” for routine medical requests and was not complying with some medical care standards. Detention standards require facilities to have a sick call procedure that allows detainees the unrestricted opportunity to freely request health care services (including dental and mental health services) provided by a physician or other qualified medical staff in a clinical setting. Medical staff rely on facility staff to bring the lockboxes to the medical unit each morning but told inspectors that this does not always occur — sometimes they arrive late in the day and sometimes not at all — resulting in a lack of access to medical care for detainees. OIG’s medical experts determined facility staff took no proactive action to ensure the medical unit received sick call requests in a timely manner.
Finally, the inspection found that ICE paid for unused bed space because its population did not meet the guaranteed minimum outlined in the contract with Stewart. The contract with Stewart requires ICE to pay the facility for a guaranteed minimum of 1,600 detainees at a fixed, daily rate of $67.86 per bed. The cost to house detainees at or below the guaranteed minimum is $108,576 per day, resulting in a total annualized cost of $39.6 million. OIG analyzed 12 months of population counts at Stewart, from November 2021 through November 2022, and found that detainee populations were consistently below the contractual guaranteed minimum amount of 1,600 detainees, with an average detainee population of 1,088 for all 12 months. As a result, OIG calculated that ICE paid $12.6 million for unused bed space in a one-year timeframe, or nearly a third of the total guaranteed minimum expenditures.
OIG is making nine recommendations to ICE, including that facility staff do not use disciplinary segregation as a punitive measure for detainees who require protection; health screenings are conducted within the first 12 hours of arrival; commingling procedures and practices are strengthened; the detainee grievance standard is adhered to; and a sick call procedure is established and enforced. ICE concurred with all recommendations. It has already taken action to meet some of them and expects to complete all required activity by the end of October 2023.