The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has conducted unannounced inspections of four detention facilities to evaluate their compliance with ICE detention standards, following concerns raised by human rights groups and complaints made to the OIG hotline.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities visited between May and November 2018 were Adelanto ICE Processing Center (California), LaSalle ICE Processing Center (Louisiana), Essex County Correctional Facility (New Jersey), and Aurora ICE Processing Center (Colorado). The OIG inspections found violations of ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards, which set requirements for facilities housing detainees.
Although the conditions varied among the facilities and not every problem was present at each, OIG’s observations, detainee and staff interviews, and document reviews revealed several common issues. Because OIG observed immediate risks or egregious violations of detention standards at facilities in Adelanto, CA, and Essex County, NJ, including nooses in detainee cells, overly restrictive segregation, inadequate medical care, unreported security incidents, and significant food safety issues, the watchdog issued individual reports to ICE after its visits to these two facilities.
All four facilities had issues with expired food, which puts detainees at risk for food-borne illnesses. For example, open packages of raw chicken leaked blood all over refrigeration units, at the Essex facility; lunch meat was slimy, foulsmelling and appeared to be spoiled; and moldy bread was stored in the refrigerator.
At three facilities, OIG found that segregation practices violated standards and infringed on detainee rights. ICE standards obligate facilities to place detainees in disciplinary segregation only after they have committed a prohibited act. Inspections at Adelanto and Essex found the detainees were placed in disciplinary segregation before the disciplinary hearing panel found the detainee guilty of the charged offense. In addition, facility forms incorrectly stated these detainees were in administrative segregation when they were actually in disciplinary segregation.
Two facilities failed to provide recreation outside detainee housing units. ICE standards require that all detainees be allowed outdoor recreation time outside their living area. However, the Essex and Aurora facilities do not provide outdoor space, and recreation for detainees was located within housing units. OIG observed enclosures inside detainee living areas with mesh cages at the top to allow in outside air.
Bathrooms in two facilities’ detainee housing units were dilapidated and moldy. At one facility, detainees were not provided appropriate clothing and hygiene items to ensure they could properly care for themselves. Lastly, one facility allowed only non-contact visits, despite being able to accommodate in-person visitation.
OIG said its observations confirmed concerns identified in detainee grievances, which indicated unsafe and unhealthy conditions to varying degrees at all of the facilities visited in the inspections. It recommends that the Acting Director of ICE ensures that Enforcement and Removal Operations field offices that oversee the detention facilities covered in the inspections address the additional issues outlined in OIG’s new report and ensure facility compliance with ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards.
ICE concurs with the recommendation and said Enforcement and Removal Operations has reviewed each of the issues outlined in the report, and field offices have taken corrective action at each facility when warranted.
ICE has identified ongoing actions to address the OIG deficiencies identified. Specifically, according to ICE, improvements have been made to the Essex County Correctional Facility, including: replacing the Food Service Manager, training staff on proper food handling, removing and replacing menu items with input from detainees, and conducting random food quality testing. Essex also reported improvements in its segregation practices, including documenting why detainee strip searches were conducted and revising recreation schedules to add additional recreation time. ICE has reported improvements to facility conditions, including an extensive and systematic cleaning and renovation of the ICE detainee housing units and improving its provision of toiletries for detainees.
At the LaSalle ICE Processing Center, ICE reported taking corrective action to address food labeling.
At the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, ICE reported improvements to food service and facility conditions, including: implementing staff instructions on proper food handling and storage, with daily management checks to ensure compliance; increasing recreation time for detainees; cleaning showers daily, with weekly inspections; monitoring shower maintenance and sanitation by facility staff; and cleaning, power washing, and painting showers with a special acrylic marine paint.
At the Aurora ICE Processing Center, ICE reported the Food Service Manager had the packaged food properly relabeled and dated, and provided remedial counseling to staff on proper food storage.
ICE will provide documentation to OIG as each facility is reviewed to ensure corrective actions have been completed, with an estimated completion date of September 30, 2019.