Released 25 March 2016  By Democracy Now!
Investigation Reveals the Secret Deaths of Dozens at Privatized Immigrant-Only Jails
(....Continue from Part One)
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But you’ve also noted that a lot of the people that are incarcerated are basically—the crimes they’ve committed is re-entry into the United States, not necessarily—
SETH FREED WESSLER: That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —an actual crime here in the U.S.
SETH FREED WESSLER: That’s right. In fact, 40 percent of the people inside of these prisons are incarcerated for the criminal offense of crossing over the border. In the early '90s, 4,000 people were prosecuted criminally for crossing over the border. By 2013, at the peak of these prosecutions under the Obama administration, 91,000 people were prosecuted criminally for illegal entry or illegal re-entry, for crossing the border—something we usually think of as a civil offense. You know, usually, people are detained and deported as a result of crossing the border without papers. But we've started to incarcerate, sometimes for years, tens of thousands of people.
AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, these are not the immigrant detention facilities.
SETH FREED WESSLER: That’s right. These are a different system. So, Immigration and Customs Enforcement oversees immigration detention. There are additional 23,000 people in a separate prison system that’s overseen by the Bureau of Prisons used to hold noncitizens. And I uncovered stories of people who were facing incredible kinds of medical neglect, men who complained of illness for, in one case, two years and was never seen by doctor. This man, Claudio Fagardo-Saucedo, was actually never tested for HIV, despite the fact that there were signs that he should have been, and that federal rules would have it that he should have been. He was never tested for HIV, 'til he became so sick that he fell down. He was so weak that he fell down while walking in the prison, and he was sent to a local hospital, tested positive for HIV, and died days later of an AIDS-related brain infection. It's just sort of staggering levels of neglect.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to your interview, Seth, with Dr. John Farquhar, the former clinical director at the Federal Correctional Institution in Big Spring, Texas. This was featured on Reveal, a podcast from the Center for Investigative Reporting.
DR. JOHN FARQUHAR: There were times when I was critical. I’m a critical person, starting with myself.
SETH FREED WESSLER: You actually wrote at one point, "I feel bad for his shabby care."
DR. JOHN FARQUHAR: Well, I stand by that statement. I don’t know who it’s about, and I can’t comment on any single record of any person. But there are times when the care was not what I wanted for any patient, period.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Farquhar went on to suggest the contractors asked him to cut down on number of 911 calls made out of prison.
DR. JOHN FARQUHAR: They said, you know, "Is there a way that we can cut this down?" And I said, "Probably, yes."
SETH FREED WESSLER: I could imagine that could result in a pressure to not call when somebody really needs to go to the emergency room.
DR. JOHN FARQUHAR: That’s always the risk. That’s why professional judgment takes professional training and professional experience, because you can’t leave it up to anybody.
AMY GOODMAN: In this clip, we hear Russell Amaru, a physician assistant at Big Spring. He was on the call the night a prisoner named Nestor Garay had a seizure or a stroke. Garay spoke about the facility’s high reliance on LPNs, or licensed practical nurse.
RUSSELL AMARU: There would have been a more aggressive care for that patient, and other patients, too, if we had better training, better staff. It’s just so many things are wrong there. You had an LPN right out of school, new in corrections, trying to make an assessment. He did not have the skills. I don’t blame them as a person; I blame the management system that puts him in that position. Basically, what you have, in essence, is people that are undertrained doing jobs that they shouldn’t be doing. We do not have an infirmary for 24-hour observation. Charts are often temporarily lost for a couple of days or a week or so. And so, the companies that I work for, they’ve got the model of how the place is supposed to be run, and they seem to allow it. And I know you want to ask me: What I would do to correct the problem? I’d close this whole facility down, and I’d start over again.
AMY GOODMAN: "I’d close this whole facility down," says Russell Amaru, a physician assistant at Big Spring. Seth, "This Man Will Almost Certainly Die," your piece, dozens of men dying in disturbing circumstances in privatized, immigrant-only prisons—where is this all going?
SETH FREED WESSLER: Well, the Bureau of Prisons has made a decision that they aren’t going to apply the same rules and standards to privatized prisons used to hold immigrants that it applies to the rest of its prison system. That means that these private companies are free to determine how they’re going to provide care. One of the ways that that happens is by employing lesser-trained, less expensive workers, as the person we just heard talked about. This is a subsystem of federal prisons that’s run by the Bureau of Prisons, and there are real questions about why it is that there is a separate, segregated system of federal prisons for noncitizens, segregated on the basis of citizenship, where people are suffering really incredible kinds of medical neglect.
We continue our conversation with journalist Seth Freed Wessler, who spent more than two years fighting in and out of court to obtain more than 9,000 pages of medical records that private prison contractors had submitted to the Bureau of Prisons.
Watch: Part 2 of the investigation
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest for Part 2 of our conversation is Seth Freed Wessler, who has spent two years now investigating private immigrant prisons. Did you know they exist? We’re not talking about immigration detention facilities, which are also jails and prisons, but we’re talking about this, within the Bureau of Prisons. His piece is called "This Man Will Almost Certainly Die." Dozens of men have died in disturbing circumstances in privatized, immigrant-only prisons. The Bureau of Prisons itself says there’s a problem, yet the privatization scheme continues.
Seth, you start off with Claudio Fagardo-Saucedo. You told us his story in the show, a man who would die after being in this prison. Tell us other stories that you discovered.
SETH FREED WESSLER: Yeah, these files that I obtained through the open records request are striking, because they tell the stories of the final months and weeks in the lives of 103 men who died inside of these prisons.
We heard in the show Russell Amaru, the physician’s assistant, describe the care that a man named Nestor Garay did not receive. This is a man who I write about in my story in The Nation and who is covered in this episode of Reveal from the Investigative—from the Center for Investigative Reporting, a podcast. And Nestor Garay, one night at about 1:30 in the morning, his cellmates, nine of them, in a small cell in Big Spring, Texas, in a private prison in Big Spring, Texas, heard him moaning, pained moans coming from the top bunk. And they called for help from a guard, and the guard came and saw that he was not responding and that—the fellow prisoners were reporting that he had had a seizure.
(Continue at Part Three....)