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3/10: A Shocking Glimpse Inside America’s Privatized Detention Facilities For Immigrants (2)
Released 26 March 2016  By Erica Hellerstein - ThinkProgress

A Shocking Glimpse Inside America’s Privatized Detention Facilities For Immigrants

Erica Hellerstein - ThinkProgress
Mar 10, 2016

(....Continue from Part One)

But through a FOIA request to ICE, ThinkProgress obtained a document that provides some clarity: CCA’s emergency food strike plan. The disciplinary nature of the company’s policy (embedded below) stood out to Carl Takei, a staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project who specializes in immigration detention.

“The thrust of the policy is to squelch the protest rather to address any medical or health concerns,” Takei told ThinkProgress after reviewing its content. “It’s very different from ICE’s hunger strike policy, because ICE’s hunger strike policy is primarily about medical procedures and medical concerns. This policy is about security and control.“

For example, CCA’s plan states that supervisors are instructed to “secure the facility” if they determine that the strike threatens the center’s security.

“That’s a very long way of saying that the facility goes on lock-down,” Takei explained. “That means that everybody’s movements within the facility are going to be restricted. Since Hutto is set up with people in two-person cells, that probably means that they would be required to stay in their cells for a substantial portion of the day.”

Mary Small, policy director at the advocacy organization Detention Watch Network, said that the threat detection provision was “an absurd part of the policy. In what way does a food strike threaten the security of the facility?”

The policy explained that detainees significantly decreasing their food intake for at least three consecutive meals “may be protesting in a passive-aggressive manner.”

The policy also carved out punishments for food strikers, noting that participants would have their all of their commissary purchasing privileges suspended, and could have radio, visitation, and phone privileges removed if the center’s commander chose.

“I think it’s telling that it describes a food strike as a passive-aggressive form of protest,” Takei said. “I haven’t seen a detailed policy like this that lays out both the punitive attitude and the punitive procedures. Usually this is something that is done much more informally.”

But punishment for the October incident allegedly went beyond what was written into CCA’s policy. Grassroots Leadership claims ICE and/or CCA retaliated against strikers by placing them in solitary confinement and then sending them to other detention centers. In response to a FOIA request, ICE told ThinkProgress that Hutto does not use solitary confinement.

But Zelaya claims she was placed in isolation at the detention center and sent to a frigid room by herself. “When I participated in the hunger strike for my life and health I did it because I didn’t feel that they took good care of me… and for participating they punished me,” she said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress. “I was put in a room alone with so much cold, cold. I cried because my bones hurt from so much cold.”

Days later, she was transferred to a different facility, in Laredo, Texas.

Two Different Stories

Although ICE publicly denied the strike, emails obtained via FOIA indicate that ICE and Hutto employees were referencing the incident as the news broke. In an October 29 email with the subject line “hunger strike,” a Hutto employee sent out CCA’s emergency food strike plan, writing, “Currently, we are monitoring who returns to the housing unit too quickly which indicates the resident did not eat. We are monitoring how many residents come through the dining hall from each pod and do not take a tray.”

ICE press secretary Gillian M. Christensen reiterated the agency’s position on the strike in response to ThinkProgress’ inquiry about the email exchange: “While certain advocacy groups made allegations about a hunger strike at the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in late October and early November, those allegations were and are false. There was no hunger strike at the facility, nor have there been any since the false allegations were initially raised. Any suggestion to the contrary is absolutely false.”

Christensen added that the agency monitors “cafeteria eating behaviors as a matter of due diligence to ensure appropriate oversight of any potential health issues. As a precautionary measure, any time advocacy groups announce or encourage hunger strikes in ICE detention facilities, medical professionals advise the individuals in our custody of the negative health effects that can occur with any prolonged refusal of nourishment.”

ThinkProgress reached out to CCA for comment on the incident and its policy, but were contacted by an ICE official and told the company’s official response is the same as the agency’s.

ICE’s position doesn’t surprise Grassroots Leadership’s Bethany Carson, but it does show a clear rift between the agency and advocates’ official take. “Everything [ICE] has done shows that they are very determined to cover up what shows what happened inside the detention center,” Carson pointed out. “In everything I’ve seen, ICE maintains that there was no hunger strike taking place at Hutto. And that was directly in contrast with what we were hearing.”

In fact, the source of disagreement between the two may come down to the agency’s precise definition of a hunger strike. According to ICE and CCA policies, a detainee must refrain from eating for more than 72 hours, as observed by staff, to be on a hunger strike. If not — for example, a detainee refuses meals for 48 hours or makes a commissary food purchase — the definition won’t apply.

CCA’s policy also differentiates between a hunger strike and a food strike, noting that the two terms should not be confused. According to its policy, a food strike can be defined by detainees decreasing food intake by more than 25 percent for three consecutive meals. Christensen, the ICE press secretary, told ThinkProgress that there was no food strike at Hutto during the time of the reported incident.

But it doesn’t appear as though ICE even has a separate definition for a food strike. The agency’s National Detention Standards policy, which outlines the terms of a hunger strike, makes no mention of food strikes. When ThinkProgress asked ICE to explain the difference between hunger and food strikes, Christensen replied: “It’s the same thing” — even though CCA’s policy says otherwise.

It’s precisely these kind of semantic disputes that make it increasingly difficult to get a clear story from ICE. Moreover, the agency’s willingness to contract with private companies adds another layer of complexity, advocates say. “The more levels of contracting you introduce, the less transparency you have,” Mary Small of Detention Watch Network (DWN) pointed out. ICE, which is in charge of handling press for Hutto, has a different policy and definition for a food strike than the private company that operates the facility.

“On the one hand you have CCA playing word games with hunger strike versus food strike, and then on top of that you have ICE playing word games about what really happened as well,” Small added. “So there’s sort of two levels you have to dig through to find out what really happened. I think this points to the larger problems of transparency for the department.”
Who Is In Charge?

CCA’s policy and its lack of uniformity with the ICE standards is not the only thing that concerns watchdogs and immigration advocates. They’re also troubled by the agency’s process for inspecting detention centers, including Hutto. A recent report by the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) and DWN found major flaws with ICE’s inspection process of detention centers, including a culture of secrecy within the organization, lack of independent oversight, and a failure to adequately capture the true conditions for people inside the centers. As NIJC’s director of policy Royce Bernstein Murray put it: “Inspections are not frequent enough, they’re not independent enough, and they’re not of sufficient quality.”

ICE’s inspection process can be difficult to navigate. The agency uses three main detention standards to inspect facilities against: the 2000 National Detention Standards, and the 2008 and 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards. A center’s contract with ICE determines which set of standards it will be held to. “Most of the big facilities are on the 2008 or 2011, but most of the small facilities are on still back on the 2000 which is significantly weaker,” said Detention Watch Network’s Mary Small.

(....Continue Part Three)

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