[Pnews] 40 Percent of ICE Detainees Held in Solitary Confinement Have a Mental Illness, New Report Finds

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 14 14:26:40 EDT 2019


  40 Percent of ICE Detainees Held in Solitary Confinement Have a Mental
  Illness, New Report Finds

Spencer Woodman - August 14 2019

_In the first_ 15 months of the Trump administration, U.S. immigration 
authorities locked thousands of detainees in solitary confinement, some 
for months at a time, a new report 
from the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog that 
investigates government abuses, has found. This represents an increase 
of 15.2 percent from the final 15 months of the Obama administration, 
accelerating a practice that the United Nations has warned can amount to 

POGO’s report analyzed more than 6,000 solitary confinement incident 
reports, covering a span of slightly more than two years, that were 
filed to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement by detention centers 
around the country, from the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency 
through mid-2018. In roughly 40 percent of those reports, which POGO 
obtained through a public records request, across both presidential 
administrations, the detainee placed in isolation had a mental illness 
diagnosis. The number of placements in solitary confinement jumped by 
nearly 400 from 2016 to 2017, POGO found.

“Viewed alongside official watchdog reports and insider accounts,” the 
report reads, “these records depict an immigration detention system in 
urgent need of more oversight.”

The report builds on “Solitary Voices 
<https://www.icij.org/investigations/solitary-voices/>,” an 
investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative 
Journalists and The Intercept, in addition to five other reporting 
partners in the United States and Latin America, into the misuse and 
overuse of solitary confinement at ICE detention facilities. The 
investigation, based on reports obtained under the Freedom of 
Information Act, found that ICE has isolated thousands of the most 
vulnerable immigrant detainees, including people with severe mental 
illness, LGBTQ people, and people with disabilities, for extended 
periods of time.

ICIJ’s investigation, and the new report from POGO, comes amid 
heightened public scrutiny of the way U.S. authorities detain 
asylum-seekers and other immigrants. President Donald Trump’s tough 
stance on immigration has led to the widespread detention of immigrants 
and asylum-seekers and the slow-walking of their cases, causing the 
population of ICE detention centers to swell, with more immigrants 
waiting behind bars as their cases languish in heavily backlogged 
immigration courts. As of August 3, ICE was detaining more than 55,000 
<https://twitter.com/Haleaziz/status/1159158166979874816> people in 
detention centers nationwide — a record high — even though Congress has 
only approved funding to maintain 42,000 detention beds.

Solitary confinement, widely understood to be isolation for 22 hours a 
day or more in a small cell without meaningful social contact, can spark 
and worsen anxiety, panic attacks, and other emotional or mental 
distress, and should be used sparingly or not at all, experts say. The 
most common reason for placement in solitary confinement is breaking the 
rules, the ICIJ investigation found.

The U.N. has said that solitary confinement 
should be banned except in “very exceptional circumstances.” It should 
never be used to isolate people with mental illness or juveniles — and 
no one should be held for longer than 15 days, the U.N. says.

In a statement, ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said that the agency places 
people in its custody in solitary confinement at rates lower than the 
national prison population, citing studies ICE conducted in 2012 and 
2013 that found that about 1.1 percent of the detained immigrant 
population is in isolation at any given time, as compared to a national 
<https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/crime_police/article_e4a9911c-7748-11e9-8b88-f73544a1a077.html> for prisoners 
of 4.5 percent. “Any suggestion that the use of segregation in ICE 
custody is above the norm for detained populations would be a false 
claim,” he wrote. “In reality, segregation in ICE custody is employed at 
a rate significantly below the national average for detained populations.”

Immigration detention, however, is civil — it is not meant to be 
punitive, unlike jails and prisons that house individuals convicted of 
criminal acts. Civil detention centers are meant to hold immigrants for 
a short period of time, just long enough for their immigration status to 
be worked out. In 2017, the average length of stay was 34 days 
<https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/detention-statistics>, though some 
detained immigrants spend months and years behind bars.

POGO identified at least nine cases in which detainees, some of whom 
were recorded as having a mental illness, were held in isolation for 
more than a year. A woman with a mental health diagnosis at an ICE 
detention center in California, for instance, was released from solitary 
in December 2017 after 454 days. Another woman diagnosed with PTSD was 
released in August 2017 after 372 days in isolation. (Both of them had 
been placed in isolation in 2016, while Obama was still in office.) A 
man “diagnosed with psychotic disorder” was released in April 2018 after 
413 days in isolation.

ICIJ’s reporting earlier this year included an analysis of more than 
8,400 solitary confinement incident reports from 2013 through early 
2017. More than half of those stays lasted longer than 15 days, 
including 187 cases in which the solitary confinement continued for more 
than six months. In 32 of those cases, the detained immigrant was 
isolated for more than a year. Nearly one-third of the overall 
placements described a detainee diagnosed with a mental illness.

The POGO report’s review of data from January 1, 2016, through May 4, 
2018, found more than 4,000 instances of ICE detainees being kept in 
isolation for more than 15 days. In a quarter of these cases, 
long-isolated detainees were listed as having a mental illness.

The records obtained by POGO show that 2,565 immigrant detainees were 
placed in solitary confinement in 2016, the last full year of the Obama 
administration; about 40 percent of them had a mental illness. In 2017, 
2,944 people detained by ICE were placed in solitary confinement; about 
39 percent of them had a mental illness. In the first third of 2018, 
1,050 detained immigrants were placed in solitary confinement. A POGO 
analysis estimates that, if the rate of reporting holds steady through 
the rest of that year, ICE will have placed more than 3,100 people in 
solitary confinement — about 500 more than during Obama’s final year in 

The POGO report may add urgency to recent calls by a bipartisan group of 
lawmakers for ICE to answer questions about its solitary confinement 

In June, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., cited ICIJ’s findings in calling 
ICE’s use of solitary confinement “egregious and appalling abuses 
That same month, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called the agency’s 
practices around isolation “cruel and unnecessary 
Late last month, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Richard Blumenthal, 
D-Conn., sent a letter 
to ICE citing ICIJ’s work and demanding answers from the agency on 
“recent allegations of the misuse of solitary confinement.”

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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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