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1/17: DHS IG Audit Report on Immigration Detainees Released
Released 17 January 2007  By National Immigration Forum

DHS IG Audit Report on Immigration Detainees Released

National Immigration Forum
January 17, 2007

At a January 8 meeting with Inspector General Richard Skinner and staff, advocates learned that the IG’s long-awaited report on the treatment of immigration detainees at five immigration facilities would be released this week. This report was released TODAY and can be found at:

http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/mgmtrpts/OIG_07-01_Dec06.pdf

Notably, the report includes a review of Passaic County Jail despite the fact that the IGSA between Passaic and the ICE has been terminated. The other four facilities reviewed include: Hudson County Jail, Krome SPC, San Diego CCA and Berks County Prison.

DHS IG Audit Report on Immigration Detainees Released

As reported yesterday, the Inspector General’s long-awaited report on the treatment of immigration detainees at five immigration facilities was released and can be found at:

http://www.dhs.gov/xoig/assets/mgmtrpts/OIG_07-01_Dec06.pdf

Below is a sampling of related press.

Washington Post, Immigrants Mistreated, Report Says, By Spencer S. Hsu, January 17, 2007

U.S. authorities mistreated suspected illegal immigrants at five prisons and jails nationwide, violating federal standards meant to ensure safe and humane custody, according to a government report released yesterday.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and contractors denied timely medical treatment to some of the immigrants, failed to disclose and justify disciplinary actions against them, and improperly limited access to relatives, lawyers and immigration authorities, according to the Department of Homeland Security inspector general.

Detention officers failed to establish a system to report abuse and violated health and safety rules by neglecting to monitor prisoners on hunger strikes or suicide watches and by serving undercooked food, the report said.

The report comes amid a sharp increase in illegal immigrants in U.S. detention as Congress and the Bush administration debate an overhaul of immigration laws and promise tougher enforcement of existing laws. Civil liberties and immigrant advocacy groups are stepping up scrutiny of conditions. Jorge Bustamante, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights of immigrants, has asked to visit U.S. detention centers next month.

Critics of the agency called the report disappointing, contending that it watered down recommendations and ignored the most serious allegations of abuse collected since June 2004, which they said included physical beatings, medical neglect, food shortages and mixing of illegal immigrants in administrative custody with criminals.

“It took two years for them to come out with this? It’s incredibly disappointing,” said Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer with the ACLU immigrants rights project.

Eric Lerner, a spokesman for the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee, called the report a “whitewash” that was delayed to suppress controversy. Bryan Lonegan, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society in New York City, said that DHS has not designated 38 detention standards implemented since 2000 as federal regulations, making them unenforceable.

A spokeswoman for Richard L. Skinner, the DHS inspector general, said the report was delayed because its scope was reduced.

In a written response to the report, DHS Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers concurred at least partly with nine of 13 findings and promised changes. But she said they “do not indicate any systemic failure” at nearly 400 facilities where ICE is authorized to house as many as 27,500 people a night, because they were based on individual allegations at a small sample of sites.

ICE operations are “generally in compliance with its National Detention Standards,” Myers said.

The audit examined the U.S.-owned and operated Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, a contract Corrections Corporation of American facility in San Diego, and local jails and prisons in Berks County, Pa., and Hudson and Passaic counties, N.J.

In December 2005, ICE ordered all suspected illegal immigrants removed from the Passaic jail in Paterson, N.J., after a string of critical news accounts, including the disclosure that guards used police dogs against prisoners. DHS has since barred that practice.

Although illegal immigrants are held on administrative grounds and are supposed to be segregated by high, medium and low risk, authorities often house them together with criminals, the report said.

Many contract and state and local correction officers were unaware of separate U.S. standards for detained immigrants, the 54-page report noted. ICE itself overlooks violations in annual inspections, the report said. “A final rating of Acceptable was given to all five detention facilities,” the report said. “However, our review of the five facilities identified instances of non-compliance . . . that were not identified during the ICE annual inspection.”

***

Associated Press, Inspector general documents health and safety shortcomings at U.S. detention facilities, January 17, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Authorities failed to maintain adequate health and safety standards for some of the suspected illegal immigrants housed at five detention centers, according to an audit report by the Homeland Security department's inspector general.

The report released Tuesday found health care violations at four of the five sites inspected and environmental health and safety concerns at three of the five.

It found noncompliance with "general conditions" of confinement at all five, "including disciplinary policy, classifying detainees and housing together detainees classified at different security levels."

The report said Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials failed to provide non-emergency medical care for some inmates in a timely matter and sometimes improperly limited access to relatives, lawyers and immigration authorities.

For example, it found that eight inmates did not receive the required medical screening among 101 files examined to check on that requirement at one facility and that another sampling found 15 of 111 inmates did not receive the fuller physical examination prescribed by department guidelines.

One safety complaint documented in the report involved excessively hot water at a shower when nearby toilets were flushed. It said the problem was corrected within a week by replacement of a mixing valve.

Another addressed whether top bunk beds had adequate ladders and railings to keep inmates from falling out of bed and whether "hot" food was served cold.

It also said authorities failed to establish an adequate system for reporting abuse and violated their own rules by neglecting to monitor prisoners on hunger strikes or suicide watches.

In a written response to the report, DHS Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers concurred partly with nine of 13 findings and promised changes. But she said they "do not indicate any systemic failure" at nearly 400 facilities where ICE is authorized to house as many as 27,500 people a night.

The IG report acknowledged that it's audit did not represent a scientific sampling and that the spot findings could not be interpolated to the entire inmate population.

The audit examined the U.S.-owned and operated Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, a contract Corrections Corporation of American facility in San Diego, and local jails and prisons in Berks County, Pa., and Hudson and Passaic counties, N.J.

Critics complained the report ignored the most serious allegations of abuse, which they maintain included physical beatings.

"It took two years for them to come out with this? It's incredibly disappointing," Judy Rabinovitz, a lawyer with the ACLU immigrants rights project, told The Washington Post.

Eric Lerner, a spokesman for the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee, told the Post the report was a "whitewash."

***

San Diego Union-Tribune, Audit finds errors at immigration center, By Greg Moran, January 17, 2007

An immigration detention facility on Otay Mesa was the site of three of the four “most egregious” allegations of physical and sexual abuse found in a Department of Homeland Security audit of five such centers nationwide.

The Otay Mesa facility, operated by the private Corrections Corporation of America under a contract with the federal government, was also found deficient in several other areas relating to detainee care and treatment.

The audit conducted by Homeland Security's Office of the Inspector General was released yesterday, and its conclusions about the Otay Mesa facility were called disturbing by the executive director of the San Diego & Imperial Counties ACLU.

“The CCA facility sticks out like a sore thumb in this report, and deserves close scrutiny,” said Kevin Keenan of the ACLU.

Auditors reviewed files and interviewed some detainees in compiling the report at the five facilities across the country. It assessed compliance with standards regarding health care, environmental health and safety, general conditions and reporting of abuse.

A statement from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is in charge of the facilities, said the report only looked at a small sample of complaints from five of 325 such facilities nationwide. It defended its inspections and cautioned that the authors of the audit said it should not be applied to all facilities.

Auditors said the Otay Mesa facility, which has beds for 1,232 detainees, did not properly give inmates an initial medical screening when they arrived.

The report also said the facility did not follow standards for monitoring detainees on suicide watch and hunger strikes.

Records for two detainees on suicide watch did not show they were being checked every 15 minutes as required, and three detainees who were on a hunger strike were not properly weighed before they stopped eating or did not have their vital signs monitored every 24 hours.

Auditors said they received numerous complaints from detainees about abuse. But three instances in San Diego – a sexual assault of a detainee by a guard, an invasive search and a detainee who was toppled out of his wheelchair by a guard – were among the four “most egregious allegations received,” the report said.

The guard accused of the rape was fired, the report said. The outcome of the other two cases was unclear from the report.

In all, auditors spent 10 weeks at the CCA facility. The Homeland Security Department has agreed to make some changes and is studying other recommendations made by auditors, according to the report.

Joe Easterling, the warden at the CCA facility, said he had not read the report and declined to comment.

Greg Moran: (619) 542-4586; greg.moran@uniontrib.com

***

Herald News, Facility lax in treatment of detainees, report finds, By Samantha Henry, January 17, 2007

The first-ever government investigation into the treatment of immigrants under domestic detention by the Department of Homeland Security was released Tuesday, and found that the Passaic County Jail, among other facilities, was inconsistent in its compliance with federal detention standards.

The report, by the department's Office of Inspector General, investigated five facilities used by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold immigration detainees.

They had been chosen on the basis of their high number of detainee complaints, according to DHS officials. In addition to the Passaic County Jail, the report included one other New Jersey facility: the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny.

The report focused on detention standards for health care, environmental health and safety, conditions of confinement and reports of abuse. It found violations of the guidelines at all five facilities.

At the Passaic County Jail, government auditors found the lack of a proper system for receiving and processing detainee complaints. It also cited the facility for problems including sub-par food service, poor sanitary conditions, bad ventilation and sporadic access to telephones for legal help.

Bill Maer, spokesman for the Passaic County Sheriff's Department, said the findings were relatively minor, and felt the report showed the Sheriff's Department had treated the detainees fairly.

"We feel vindicated from this report, from all the misinformation, half-truths and lies that third-party advocacy groups perpetuated over a many-year period," he said.

Detainees who had been held at the jail, as well as advocates who worked on their behalf, blasted the report as incomplete, and characterized it as a "whitewash."

"This isn't a serious report," said Eric Lerner of the New Jersey Civil Rights Defense Committee, a group that submitted documentation of detainee abuse in Passaic to the auditors. "This is in no way a reflection of the information we gave to the OIG. It's basically a whitewash that specifically does not address the many reports of abuse of the detainees."

Although detainees and advocacy groups were interviewed by auditors, there were scant findings of the numerous complaints filed against the jail over the years in the final report.

One of the reasons, the report found, was that the jail lacked proper grievance procedures for receiving and processing complaints by immigration detainees. For example, the jail did not maintain a detainee grievance log; have a grievance committee; or a complaint box accessible to detainees, as required under ICE detention standards.

A former detainee said Tuesday that lack of a proper grievance system had made getting responses to complaints difficult. "There was no system to complain," said Peter Ali, 39, a Guyanese who now lives in Queens, N.Y. "There's no system in the jail, my lawyers had to do it for me, file complaints from the outside. You have no idea of the torture in that place. One day they'd take the food, they take sheets and blankets away when it was cold, but if we complained, nobody listened to us."

Ali said detainees held hunger strikes and called the media when their complaints were ignored by jail officials.

Maer dismissed the claims of a lack of a proper grievance system as ludicrous, citing the frequent publicity of the detainees as proof their complaints were being heard.

"The Sheriff's Department received many complaints from detainees, hundreds upon hundreds," Maer said. "We installed 1-800 toll-free phone lines for detainees and their attorneys, so we feel there was an open line for detainees to voice their grievances, and clearly they called the media whenever they had a problem."

Although the Passaic County Jail housed immigration detainees from 1985 to 2006, through an intergovernmental service agreement with federal immigration authorities, complaints of abuse greatly increased in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, when New York City closed its detention facilities and transferred hundreds of detainees to Passaic and other New Jersey facilities.

The number of immigrants in detention nationwide rose from about 5,500 in 1995 to about 200,000 today, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

The operation proved lucrative to county jails, which received millions of dollars in revenue in exchange for renting the government bed space.

At the Passaic County Jail, detainees complained of horrible conditions, as well as physical and verbal abuse by guards. Incidents of the use of jail dogs on detainees were exposed by a National Public Radio report.

Jail officials cited bad publicity and pressure from advocacy groups in its decision to suspend its agreement with Homeland Security and to transfer all immigration detainees out of the jail. But Maer acknowledged Tuesday that the agreement was only suspended, not cancelled, though there were no immediate plans to take on detainees again, he said.

The report also took a wider look at how well the overall guidelines for the treatment of immigrants in detention are working nationwide. Although the guidelines do not have the weight of law, facilities that have contracts with ICE to house immigration detainees are expected to comply with the standards.

The report hints at a lack of understanding among law enforcement rank-and-file in local jails that immigration detainees are in administrative, not criminal custody.

It cites examples where correctional officers were trained to treat inmates and detainees in the same way, ignoring the different legal standards that govern their detention, and in several cases, mixing detainees in with the general criminal population.

Key recommendations included not only that more information be made available to detainees regarding their rights while in custody, but that better training be done on the special status of immigration detainees among correctional officers.

A spokesman for ICE stressed that the report could not be taken as an overall indication of how the system is working, because its methodology only looked at a random, non-statistical sample of facilities and detainee interviews. ICE agreed to implement many of the report's recommendations.

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia of the National Immigration Forum, a group that was involved in the audit process, said the report was a positive step in fixing a shadowy system in which immigration detainees can be held in limbo.

"This is the first step of many required, and I hope it inspires broader policy changes," she said. "I hope the OIG report will inspire changes like placing detention standards into regulation, and in courts extending due process and freedoms provided by the Constitution to all immigration detainees."

Reach Samantha Henry at 973-569-7172 or henrys@northjersey.com

***

Miami Herald, Report cites minor complaints at Krome, By Alfonso Chardy, January 16, 2007

A federal audit of five immigration detention facilities -- including Krome in West Miami-Dade, where detainees have complained of overcrowding -- revealed Tuesday that the files of four Krome detainees were missing and those of seven others lacked grievance complaints and incident reports.

The missing and incomplete files were perhaps the most significant finding about Krome in a 54-page report released by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general's office, which also reviewed facilities in Leesport, Pa., San Diego, and Kearny and Paterson, N.J.

The audit is the first review of detainee treatment at these facilities since the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service folded and its functions were taken over by Homeland Security in March 2003. The report cautioned that the findings were not based on statistical samplings and, thus, were not scientific.

Conclusions, they said, stemmed from reviews of selected reports and allegations about detainee abuse, as well as visits to the five detention facilities and interviews with some detainees. It listed a litany of grievances -- all at other facilities beyond Krome -- including rats and mice, excessively hot water in showers, dirty food trays and unsafe bunk beds that led to some detainees sustaining injuries.

Marc Raimondi, a spokesman in Washington for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, suggested the report was inadequate because its findings were unscientific.

''This report acknowledges it did not use statistical sampling for its sample selections, and the results of the testing should not be projected to the detainee population or other facilities,'' Raimondi said. ``The IG report identified exceptions to the norm at five facilities that comprise less than 1.5 percent of the more than 325 facilities used by ICE.''

Raimondi also noted that the report was compiled ``by putting up posters in the detention facility that solicited complaints from illegal aliens incarcerated for violating the nation's immigration laws.''

Raimondi said he would respond to the report's broad findings, but not address specific issues about Krome.

Other findings about Krome:

• Grievance complaints were not properly handled.

• The holding room, where newly arrived detainees are kept before being admitted, keeps detainees longer than accepted standards. According to those standards, a detainee may be held in a holding room for up to 12 hours. But Krome's logbooks showed that 40 detainees were held for 13 to 20 hours between Nov. 2, 2003, and April 10, 2004.

• Mail is returned if the detainee doesn't claim it within two days, and detainees were not properly advised about the practice.

The report did not list any major problems at Krome -- compared to conditions there in 2000, when sexual abuse allegations surfaced. Conditions listed at other facilities seemed worse. For example, the report said detainees at facilities in Leesport and Paterson ''complained of pest control problems'' and that reports at Paterson ``indicated evidence of rats/mice and cockroaches.''

Auditors conducted their review between January 2004 and January 2006 -- well before Krome's overcrowding complaints surfaced last summer. Detainees there have also sporadically complained about inadequate medical attention and abuse by guards.

Tuesday's report referred to inadequate medical screening or care at some of the other facilities.

The report noted that Krome complied with the standard for initial medical screening and physical examination of arriving detainees and with requirements to monitor 14 detainees on ``suicide watch.''

About 255 Krome detainees who signed a letter to The Miami Herald in November took a different view.

''Medical care is more like punishment,'' the letter said. ``We are stuck for hours in the waiting room . . . to see the nurse, no [doctor] on campus except a few hours per week. No eye care whatsoever.''

Raimondi suggested that, overall, medical care is more than adequate because the government has allocated millions to the program.

''In fiscal year 2006, ICE spent approximately $72 million on the ICE Medical Program and off-site medical claims,'' Raimondi noted.

Overcrowding has led to incidents at Krome. The most recent occurred Dec. 8 when riot-equipped officers escorted a senior immigration official into a dormitory at the facility where angry detainees had begun a protest. The incident was attributed by officials to delays by the consulates of Haiti and Jamaica in providing travel papers to detainees. But some detainees claimed tensions at Krome were the result of overcrowding.

''The campus is overcrowded like sardines,'' the letter said.

At one point, the number of Krome detainees exceeded 1,000 -- almost double the site's publicly acknowledged capacity of about 580.

In mid-December, the number of detainees at Krome had declined to 927. Raimondi put the detainee population Tuesday at more than 700.


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