[Pnews] Thousands of Immigrants Suffer in Solitary Confinement in ICE Detention

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue May 21 11:46:57 EDT 2019


  Thousands of Immigrants Suffer in Solitary Confinement in ICE Detention

Spencer Woodman <https://theintercept.com/staff/spencer-woodman/>, 
Maryam Saleh <https://theintercept.com/staff/maryamsaleh/>, Hannah 
Rappleye <https://theintercept.com/staff/hannah-rappleye/>, Karrie Kehoe 
<https://theintercept.com/staff/karrie-kehoe/>- May 20 2019

The Intercept’s and ICIJ’s reporting, which included a groundbreaking 
review of more than 8,400 reports describing placements of ICE detainees 
in solitary confinement 
found that the immigration agency has used isolation cells to punish 
immigrants for offenses as minor as consensual kissing, and to segregate 
hunger strikers, LGBTQ detainees, and people with disabilities.

In nearly a third of the cases, detainees were described as having a 
mental illness, which made them especially vulnerable to breakdown if 
locked up alone in a small cell. Records reviewed by ICIJ describe 
detainees in isolation mutilating their genitals, gouging their eyes, 
cutting their wrists, and smearing their cells with feces.

The review found that immigrants held in the agency’s isolation cells 
had suffered hallucinations, fits of anger, and suicidal impulses. 
Former detainees told ICIJ that they experienced sleeplessness, 
flashbacks, depression, and memory loss long after release.

“People were being brutalized,” said Ellen Gallagher, who currently 
holds a supervisory role in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 
Gallagher has tried for years to sound the alarm within her agency about 
a wide range of abusive uses of solitary confinement at ICE detention 

Gallagher, a whistleblower who is going public for the first time, told 
The Intercept and ICIJ that ICE, a DHS agency, has violated policies 
that often require a search for less restrictive measures before people 
are placed in prolonged solitary confinement. She said she has never 
been so deeply disturbed by a professional matter. “I lost sleep. I 
cried,” she said.

ICIJ’s investigation was conducted over five months in collaboration 
with Grupo SIN in the Dominican Republic; Plaza Pública in Guatemala; 
Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción in Mexico; and The Intercept, NBC News, 
and Univision in the U.S.

It comes in the midst of unprecedented public scrutiny of the way that 
U.S. authorities arrest and detain asylum-seekers and other immigrants. 
President Donald Trump’s tough stance has caused the population of ICE 
detention centers to swell, with more immigrants waiting behind bars as 
their cases languish in heavily backlogged immigration courts — though 
the routine use of solitary confinement long predates Trump’s presidency.

ICIJ’s investigation included interviews with dozens of detainees, and 
the review of thousands of pages of audits and other documents. The 
incident reports reviewed by ICIJ describe placements of detainees in 
solitary confinement from 2012 to early 2017 — adding up to millions of 
hours of isolation.

ICIJ obtained the incident reports through a public records request that 
asked for logs detailing placements of detainees in solitary 
confinement. The records cover only a portion of all isolation stays in 
ICE facilities.

ICE said it does not keep records of every solitary confinement 
placement. Instead, it tracks only cases in which detainees were held in 
isolation for more than 14 days, and when immigrants with a “special 
vulnerability” were placed in isolation. This latter category includes 
detainees who have a mental illness, have been victims of abuse, or 
would be at risk in a facility’s general population due to their sexual 
orientation or gender identity.

The data generally reflects overall migration trends; more than half of 
the detainees in the data set are from just four countries: Mexico, El 
Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

In a statement, ICE spokesperson Danielle Bennett said the agency’s 
policy on segregation — the ICE term for isolation — “protects 
detainees, staff, contractors, and volunteers from harm.” On average, 
half a percent of ICE’s population was held in solitary for 14 days or 
more in 2018, she said.

Explore the data from more than 8,400 reports describing placements of 
ICE detainees in solitary confinement.

      “Gasoline on a Fire”

Some detainees spent weeks or months in isolation.

More than half of the 8,488 incident reports ICIJ reviewed described 
stays in solitary confinement that lasted longer than 15 days. ICIJ 
identified 187 cases in which a detainee was held for more than six 
months. In 32 of those cases, the detainee was confined in solitary for 
a year or more.

An NBC News review of ICE detainee death reports found that at least 13 
detainees who died in ICE custody had spent time in solitary, in some 
cases up to the time of death. In eight of those deaths, ICE later 
determined that rules for putting detainees in isolation and procedures 
for caring for them were not followed, according to agency documents.

ICIJ’s analysis found at least 373 instances of detainees being placed 
in isolation because they were potentially suicidal — and another 
200-plus cases of people already in solitary confinement moved to 
“suicide watch” or another form of observation, in many cases in another 
solitary cell.

“This is the equivalent of pouring gasoline on a fire,” Kenneth 
Appelbaum, a professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of 
Massachusetts Medical School who has examined ICE’s segregation 
practices as a DHS consultant, said of using solitary confinement to 
manage suicidal detainees. “This is a practice that exposes detainees to 
real psychological and physiological harm.”

Citing nondisclosure agreements with the agency, Appelbaum declined to 
comment specifically on what he saw at ICE.

Some ICE detention centers — such as Adelanto Detention Facility in 
California, run by the GEO Group, and Stewart Detention Center in 
Georgia, run by CoreCivic — reported placing hundreds of detainees in 
isolation. Both facilities are the subject of class-action lawsuits by 
former detainees alleging that the two private contractors used solitary 
confinement to force immigrant detainees to work 
for as little as $1 a day.

In response to questions from ICIJ, both the GEO Group and CoreCivic 
said their work programs are strictly voluntary.

Other detention centers appear to use isolation rarely, though there is 
no way to tell whether a facility is misreporting or underreporting 
incidents. (One of ICE’s government watchdogs, the DHS Office of 
Inspector General, has found significant problems with the 
underreporting of solitary confinement data).

The records show dozens of cases of detainees placed in solitary 
confinement solely due to a disability, many simply because they needed 
a wheelchair, cane, crutches, or some other aid. One detainee from 
Guatemala was put in isolation for more than two months only because he 
had a prosthetic leg. A Nicaraguan man was put in solitary for almost 
two months — the only listed reason: “Detainee utilizes crutches — 
deformed leg.”

    “Sometimes I feel like someone is choking me. I have flashbacks,
    like I’m still confined in that little room.”

The logs also include 182 descriptions of detainees being isolated for 
going on hunger strike, a form of protest that advocates argue is 
protected under the First Amendment.

“It was mental torture, nothing else,” said Karandeep Singh, a 
29-year-old Sikh from the state of Punjab in northern India who was 
moved to solitary confinement in the El Paso Processing Center, in 
Texas, after he refused meals to protest his impending deportation. 
Singh said that after more than two weeks in solitary, he bashed his 
head into his cell wall in an attempt to kill himself.

Even months after being released from isolation, Singh and other former 
detainees said they couldn’t move past the experience.

“After that first or second week, I lost my mind,” said Ayo Oyakhire, a 
52-year-old Nigerian, of his nearly seven weeks in isolation at the ICE 
unit in Atlanta’s jail. “Sometimes I feel like someone is choking me. I 
have flashbacks, like I’m still confined in that little room.”

      A Global Outlier

The origins of solitary confinement date back to European dungeons in 
the Middle Ages, but the practice was not institutionalized until the 
rise of the modern penitentiary in the early 19th century. For jailers 
trying to manage unruly or dangerous prisoners, isolation cells proved a 
useful tool: Lock them inside an armored box where they can disturb no 
one but themselves.

Beginning with a raft of tough-on-crime laws in the 1970s, the use of 
solitary confinement surged in the U.S., along with a major boom in its 
prison population. In 2016, Amy Fettig, head of the American Civil 
Liberties Union’s Stop Solitary campaign, wrote that the use of solitary 
confinement in America “is a global outlier and human rights crisis.”

Most of the attention paid to solitary confinement has focused on 
prisons. Its use in immigration detention centers has drawn far less notice.

In 1993, at the start of Bill Clinton’s presidency, a handful of U.S. 
detention centers held a few thousand immigrant detainees on any given 
day. Clinton signed into law new requirements that mandated detention of 
many immigrants who had served prison time and tripled the size of the 
detention network.

By the time Barack Obama was inaugurated in 2009, civil detention of 
noncitizens had become mainstream in U.S. incarceration, with large, 
private-sector prison companies competing for multimillion-dollar 
federal contracts to help detain tens of thousands of immigrants. A 
network of new facilities sprawled across dozens of states, many 
operated by private contractors or situated within county jails.

In February 2014, Gallagher, the whistleblower, who was then a policy 
adviser for Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office, 
came across ICE logs detailing the placement of detainees in solitary 
confinement. At first, she couldn’t believe her eyes: The agency was 
using the punishing conditions of isolation on civil detainees routinely 
and often with little apparent justification.

Her alarm grew as she gathered more documentation and reviewed cases of 
ICE detention centers placing mentally ill immigrants in isolation for 
attempting suicide and for being the victim of a physical attack. One 
detainee was placed in isolation for the unauthorized possession of a 
green pepper.

Over several months, Gallagher tracked individual cases and gathered 
reams of documentation. Coming to believe that ICE was violating its own 
rules and endangering the lives of detainees, she embarked on a 
yearslong effort to reform the agency’s practices.

In a succession of whistleblower memos first circulated internally at 
DHS and then sent to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel — an independent 
agency where federal employees can file complaints of wrongdoing they 
think have been ignored — Gallagher alleged that abuses of solitary 
confinement at ICE had become “urgent and at times life-threatening,” 
and that the practices contributed to an “ongoing abuse of authority and 
create a substantial and specific danger to public health and safety.”

ICE’s internal guidelines explicitly require detention officials to 
document what alternatives to isolation were considered in certain 
cases. Gallagher often found no evidence that ICE had actually done this.

While a breach of ICE’s directive, by itself, would not amount to a 
legal violation, departing from agency rules can still be highly 
significant, said Lucas Guttentag, a professor of law at Stanford 
University. “The directive is effectively internal agency law that every 
employee and manager must follow with care and fidelity,” Guttentag 
said. “Directives are critical to governing an agency effectively.”

In a statement, the Department of Homeland Security said that its Office 
for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties had examined ICE’s use of isolation 
through complaint investigations, working groups, and other advice and 
feedback. The office has worked with ICE “to improve policy and reduce 
unnecessary use of segregated housing for ICE detainees,” the 
spokesperson said. The office said that, in 2016, it collaborated with 
ICE to implement Obama-era recommendations issued by the Justice 
Department on improving solitary confinement.

DHS’s Office of Inspector General, which Gallagher also communicated 
with during her whistleblowing — and where she now works as a director 
in the Office of Integrity and Quality Oversight — pointed to several 
critical audits 
it had conducted of ICE facilities since 2016, including one 
report that focused specifically on the use of segregation and 
recommended better data-collection practices.

Perhaps the most meaningful step taken in response to Gallagher’s 
whistleblowing was a previously unreported letter sent in June 2015 by 
the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chair at the time, Sen. Charles 
Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and a Democrat on the panel, then-Sen. Al 
Franken of Minnesota. The letter was addressed to Jeh Johnson, who was 
the Homeland Security secretary.

“Recent information obtained by the Committee,” the senators wrote, 
“suggests that ICE continues to place many detainees with mental health 
concerns in administrative or disciplinary segregation — also known as 
solitary confinement — contrary to agency directives that limit the use 
of segregation for the mentally ill.”

Believing that she has exhausted her options for whistleblowing within 
the government, Gallagher agreed to share her story. Without public 
action, “this same set of circumstances will not stop,” she said. “And I 
think it will actually get worse.”

      The Suicide Room

Dulce Rivera has led a troubled life. Although her birthplace is 
unknown, her earliest memories are of the streets of San Pedro Sula in 
Honduras. She said her mother, a sex worker, abandoned her to fend for 
herself at age 10. Rivera said she suffered abuse on the streets and 
began using drugs at an early age. Fleeing destitution in Central 
America, she arrived in the U.S. when she was 16 and was later granted 
permanent residency.

In 2013, she was convicted in Santa Barbara, California, of robbery in 
the second degree, an aggravated felony, according to immigration court 
filings. She spent the next four years in prison before being 
transferred to ICE custody.

ICE maintains that while detained in New Mexico, Rivera harassed other 
detainees, an allegation she denies.

After the suicide attempt, Rivera was put in a new solitary confinement 
cell that was much like her first, but this time, she was stripped and 
given a heavy, green smock that couldn’t be torn or otherwise fashioned 
into an instrument of self-harm.

She was still locked alone almost all of the time in conditions that 
caused her mind to fester. “They take off all your clothes and they put 
you in a cell that is more terrible,” Rivera said.

    “Due to housing limitations at various facilities, segregation use
    for suicide observation is a necessity.”

ICIJ found that there is often a revolving door between solitary 
confinement and medical isolation cells for people deemed at high risk 
of trying to hurt themselves. Like Rivera, Karandeep Singh, the Indian 
hunger striker, was also moved again to isolation after he tried to kill 
himself. He said he remained in what he called the “suicide room” for 24 
hours in handcuffs and was then placed in a smock, like Rivera.

In one memo, Gallagher described seeing records of ICE detainees moving 
“chronically back and forth from the general population to 
administrative or disciplinary segregation, with periodic, 
crisis-oriented admissions to psychiatric hospitals punctuating their 
return to the same disturbing cycle.”

The records ICIJ reviewed contain numerous examples. In Michigan’s 
Calhoun County, after an Iraqi detainee was admitted to a hospital for 
cutting himself with a razor, detention officials placed him in suicide 
watch and then charged him with “a weapons offense and self mutilation,” 
sentencing him to 30 additional days in isolation, otherwise known as 
Special Housing Unit, or SHU, as punishment.

In the agency’s response, Bennett, the ICE spokesperson, said agency 
standards permit it to place potentially suicidal people in isolation as 
a last resort. “Due to housing limitations at various facilities, 
segregation use for suicide observation is a necessity,” Bennett said.

The standards also permit ICE to use isolation cells to allow medical 
staff to monitor detainees on hunger strike when necessary, Bennett said.

Even some of the toughest critics of solitary confinement acknowledge 
that it can be necessary to separate people from the general population 
of a jail or detention center for a short time. It can be for their own 
protection — or to protect others, if a detainee, for instance, is 
experiencing a fit of violent anger. But experts and human rights 
advocates say that solitary confinement placements should be rare and 
last as short a time as possible.

When action must be taken, facilities can first require mediation or 
anger management classes, or take away privileges, such as television 
time, experts say. Detainees at risk of harm could be transferred to 
other units or facilities that have more accommodating populations. If 
isolation is necessary, detainees should be permitted meaningful contact 
with others for multiple hours a day, and given a clear road map 
indicating what they must do to be let out. “Nobody should be on ‘dead 
time’ in solitary, meaning they perceive that there is nothing to do and 
nothing will improve their situation,” said Terry Allen Kupers, a 
psychiatrist and professor at the Wright Institute who has studied 
solitary confinement extensively 

ICE documentation suggests that the detention center put Rivera in the 
suicide watch isolation cell as a form of punishment intended to change 
her behavior.

“She has finally begun to reflect upon her actions,” noted a mental 
health worker at the facility. “[Rivera] admitted that her actions have 
cost her a lot, and she didn’t realize how well she actually had it 
(even in SHU) until being back now [on suicide] watch again.”

Experts say using solitary confinement as a way to manage suicidal 
detainees is unacceptable. “The only way to respond to suicidal 
prisoners and help them is to talk to them, to have an evolving 
therapeutic relationship,” Kupers said. “That’s how we treat suicide in 
any setting.”

    Asking detainees to decide between the threat of violence and the
    misery of isolation is no choice at all.

In August 2018, ICE moved Rivera to El Paso. There, the transgender 
woman was given the option of rooming in the general population — or 
alone in an isolation cell, according to ICE records. (Rivera disputes 
that she was offered a choice).

Many case logs reviewed by ICIJ indicate that a detainee requested an 
isolation cell for their own protection. Wes Brockway, Rivera’s 
attorney, said asking detainees to decide between the threat of violence 
and the misery of isolation is no choice at all.

“We’re giving the option of being in a population where they might not 
be safe, or going into conditions where they’re extremely isolated and 
almost guaranteed to suffer psychological harm,” he said. “It’s 
completely contrary to the idea of protecting someone.”

Citing a 2015 agency guidance 
on the treatment of transgender detainees, ICE said it weighs housing 
options for such individuals with a multidisciplinary team that can 
include mental health staff and subject matter experts. The agency said 
that transgender detainees should be placed in segregation only as a 
last resort and when no other housing options are available.

CoreCivic, which runs the Cibola facility, said that it is contractually 
required to follow ICE’s detention standards. “We’re committed, as we 
have been for three decades, to creating a safe environment for the 
individuals ICE entrusts to our care,” CoreCivic spokesperson Amanda 
Gilchrist said, “and to following all federal guidelines on the 
appropriate accommodation of transgender detainees.”

In El Paso, Rivera spent nearly eight months in solitary confinement, 
mostly under protective custody. On April 9, she was abruptly released 
from the detention center altogether.

      Punished With Isolation

In the incident reports reviewed by ICIJ, “disciplinary segregation” — 
or punishment for breaking the rules — was the single reason most often 
given for putting a detainee in solitary confinement.

The infraction most often cited was fighting. Disputes over stolen 
shampoo bottles and what television channel to watch sometimes boiled 
over into physical altercations in the reports ICIJ reviewed.

Scattered throughout the reports are descriptions of people being placed 
in solitary confinement for what seem like minor infractions.

One detainee was placed in isolation for giving haircuts. Another spent 
13 days in isolation for consensually kissing another detainee. A third, 
despite having a mental illness, remained in solitary for 41 days for 
encouraging other detainees to go on hunger strike.

    One detainee was placed in isolation for giving haircuts. Another
    spent 13 days in isolation for consensually kissing another detainee.

A 2017 audit by the inspector general’s office for DHS identified 
“problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their 
humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.” 
ICE detention centers were placing detainees in solitary confinement for 
infractions as minor as improperly sharing a cup of coffee, the audit 
found. In some cases, the watchdog pointed out, detainees were punished 
with solitary because they were suspected of having committed an 
infraction that officials needed time to investigate.

Ilyas Muradi, a 30-year-old longtime U.S. resident from Afghanistan, has 
spent most of the last four months in solitary at ICE’s South Texas 
Detention Complex. He said he was accused of entering a shower without 
authorization, and threatening a guard.

Muradi denied that he threatened a guard, but acknowledged getting into 
multiple fights with other detainees last year. He said he believes that 
guards are now punishing him simply because they don’t like him — and he 
is frustrated because he doesn’t know what he can do to be released from 

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Muradi said. At the end of one call to 
ICIJ, Muradi lost his usual composure, breaking into sobs, asking, “Can 
you please help me?”

In recent years, some state prison systems in the U.S. have taken steps 
to limit the use of solitary confinement to discipline inmates for 
violating facility rules. Texas, where Muradi is detained, outlawed 
the practice in its correctional institutions. The state prisons use 
solitary confinement only in cases in which a detainee presents a threat 
due to gang affiliation or other security risks.

In ICE detention, by contrast, disciplinary isolation is sometimes used 
to segregate the victim of an attack.

In mid-April 2017, a 27-year-old detainee named Jeancarlo Jimenez-Joseph 
at ICE’s Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, was placed in 
solitary confinement for several days for fighting. Video surveillance 
footage shows Jimenez-Joseph being attacked by another detainee and 
feebly defending himself.

Not long after he was released from solitary confinement for the fight, 
Jimenez-Joseph was back in solitary as punishment for jumping off a 
second-level balcony — an action he told staff was aimed at hurting no 
one but himself.

After 18 days in segregation, he hanged himself using a sheet tied to a 
sprinkler head in his small cell.

In a statement, CoreCivic, which runs the Stewart facility, said that it 
was not responsible for health services at the facility at the time of 
Jimenez-Joseph’s death.

      Lasting Trauma

In the middle of April, on a park bench set back from the din of 
Amritsar, India, a temple-dotted city near the Pakistan border, 
Karandeep Singh lifted a pristine New York Yankees baseball cap and 
pointed to a two-inch scar slanting up from his right eyebrow toward his 
hairline. It is a reminder of his attempt to end his life in solitary.

The cut has closed, but Singh, who was deported to India in late 
February, said his mental wounds have been slower to heal. “I am 
mentally elsewhere. I cannot sleep,” Singh said. He said he has 
flashbacks that trigger the fear he felt in solitary confinement in 
Texas. “You are changed; you can’t feel safe,” he said.

ICE detainees who recounted their experiences to ICIJ and its partners 
gave remarkably similar descriptions of the lasting trauma of solitary 

They spoke of feeling cell-bound long after their release; of insomnia; 
of suffering vivid flashbacks of isolation, particularly at night; of 
grappling with depression and memory loss.

Manpreet Singh, a 30-year-old detainee and acquaintance of Karandeep, 
said ICE placed him in solitary for going on hunger strike at the 
agency’s facility in Otero County, New Mexico. Manpreet Singh said he 
suffers flashbacks at night and has lost interest in socializing. “I 
don’t talk to people much anymore,” he said.

After her release on April 9, Dulce Rivera moved into the Las Cruces, 
New Mexico, home of a visitation volunteer she had grown so close to in 
detention that she calls her “Mom.”

She now has her own bedroom with windows that let in the morning light. 
But at night, the fear creeps back in. She has recurring nightmares, 
disorientation, and trouble sleeping. And when she goes to bed, she 
leaves the door open.

/Contributors: Emilia Diaz-Struck, Scilla Alecci, Ben Hallman, Richard 
H.P. Sia, Fergus Shiel, Tom Stites, Hamish Boland-Rudder, Amy 
Wilson-Chapman, Pauliina Siniauer, Antonio Cucho, Andrew Lehren, Vanessa 
Swales, Alicia Ortega, Julia Ramírez, Enrique Naveda, Suchit Chávez, 
Alejandro García, Valeria Durán, Daniel Lizárraga, Andrew Lehren, 
Vanessa Swales, Lynn Dombek, Talya Cooper, Roger Hodge, Ariel Zambelich, 
Moiz Syed, and Tamoa Calzadilla./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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