STUDIO CITY (CBSLA) — Persisting violations of federal detention standards were found at California’s largest, privately operated immigration facility, according to U.S. authorities.
The Department of Homeland Security last week issued a scathing report detailing the presence of nooses inside cells of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in Adelanto, as well as a dearth of medical care resulting in rotting teeth and mistreatment of detainees with disabilities.
The facility is owned by GEO Group, which, according to its website, runs or owns more than 130 corrections, youth and “non-residential reentry” facilities in the U.S.
On Tuesday, the DHS Office of Inspector General tweeted the report, saying these issues “require ICE’s immediate attention and increased engagement with the center and its operations.”
“While at the center, we identified serious issues relating to safety, detainee rights, and medical care that require ICE’s immediate attention,” the DHS Office Of Inspector General wrote of the May 2018 inspection. “These issues not only constitute violations of ICE detention standards but also represent significant threats to the safety, rights, and health of detainees.”
Inspectors noted braided bed sheets, referred to by staff as “nooses,” were found hanging from fixtures or furniture in 15 of approximately 20 cells visited by DHS. Some detainees interviewed said they used the sheets as a partition or to hang clothes, but one told officials they had seen the sheets used in multiple suicide attempts. They added staff members laugh at the “suicide failures” when detainees return from getting medical care.
In March 2017, a 32-year-old man died after being found hanging from one of the nooses, and seven suicide attempts were reported from December 2016 to October 2017.
“ICE has not taken seriously the recurring problem of detainees hanging bedsheet nooses at the Adelanto Center; this deficiency violates ICE standards,” reads the report.
The OIG also concluded that, while detainees can be put in administrative or disciplinary segregation for valid reasons, detainees were removed from the general population “prematurely” before being found guilty of violating rules. Others were separated for not being able to speak English, including a blind detainee who was put into disciplinary segregation.
A disabled detainee who asked to be put in administrative segregation was instead placed in disciplinary segregation for nine days until inspectors brought the matter to the attention of medical staff. The OIG then found that the man had not left his wheelchair to sleep in a bed or brush his teeth during those nine days.
Medical staff just signed off on the man’s visitation from outside his cell rather than performing an ICE-mandated evaluation, inspectors said. Only then was the man observed for a medical examination.
They similarly noted the medical care that was administered to detainees in segregation was cursory, at best, with doctors, nurses and mental health personnel indicating they visited the detainees when they actually just stamped their records located outside the cells.
“For the four detainees a doctor did speak with, the doctor asked if the detainee was ‘ok’ in English, not necessarily a language the detainee understood,” according to the report.
The dental care of detainees was especially lacking. Despite the check-ups and cleanings required after six months of detention, “Records indicated and center staff corroborated that the center was waiting for detainees to leave rather than providing cleanings.” According to the report, there are only two dentists on staff to care for up to 1,940 detainees.
Logs indicated no cleanings had been done in nearly four years. One detainee said several of their teeth had fallen out, despite having waited more than two years for fillings.
One dentist said he provided care for pain and did no have time for the procedures, saying detainees didn’t need fillings if they brushed and flossed regularly. Floss is only available through commissary, where detainees can buy items through money put in their accounts. With that knowledge, the dentist suggested that if detainees cared about their dental hygiene, they could use string from their socks to floss.
Guards also said they restrained several detainees in disciplinary segregation with handcuffs and shackles outside their cells as a security measure, but the OIG said, “Physically restraining all disciplinary segregation detainees whenever they are outside their cells does not comport with ICE standards and gives the appearance of criminal, rather than civil, custody.”
ICE concurred with the OIG in its recommendations on cell “housekeeping,” segregation and medical care. However, the agency said the report lacked “important context” in regards to segregation, saying it might be required to ensure safety. They also pushed back against the claim they had inadequate language services, but said they’d evaluate whether ICE can do more.
The American Civil Liberties Union called the conditions described in the report as “cruel” and “nightmarish.”
According to the reports, the OIG will re-inspect the Adelanto facility on Oct. 10.