In response to concerns raised by immigrant rights groups and complaints to the Office of Inspector General Hotline about conditions for detainees held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, inspectors conducted unannounced inspections of five detention facilities around the U.S. recently to evaluate their compliance with ICE detention standards.
“Our inspections of five detention facilities raised concerns about the treatment and care of ICE detainees at four of the facilities visited,” said a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security early in December. “Overall, we identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.”
The Hudson County Correctional Facility was among those visited based on the hotline complaints. These include problems with detainees getting needed medications on a timely manner, lack of sanitary products for proper hygiene, and bad or out of date food.
“Overall, we identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment,” said the report, which was based on visitor observations, interviews with detainees, and reviews of documents.
In some facilities, detainees were incorrectly housed, while at another they were strip searched, the report said. Language services were often not available to detainees, and in some cases, detainees were prevented from filing grievances.
“Staff did not always treat detainees respectfully and professionally, and some facilities may have misused segregation. Finally, we observed potentially unsafe and unhealthy detention conditions,” the report said, noting also that detainees reported long waits for medical care, poor conditions in bathrooms, and insufficient hygiene supplies.
Inspectors also observed spoiled food in facility kitchens as well as food passed expiration date.
Review of Hudson problems
Freeholder Bill O’Dea said the freeholders’ Public Safety Committee has reviewed the report and found Hudson County deficiencies were cited in several areas, including failure to provide eyeglasses when lost or needed by detainees, as well as medications not provided.
“On the eyeglasses issue we have changed our policy, so now in cases like this one, or where there is a need for medications, we order them right away and do not wait for ICE approval,” O’Dea said. “So if ICE does not approve we eat the cost.”
The Hudson County Correctional Facility was also cited for stale food.
“We have changed the vendor from Aramark to Gourmet Dining and have made accommodations in menu to address detainees,” O’Dea said.
He dismissed the report claiming that there is a lack of personal hygiene items for detainees.
“The director said this is not true,” O’Dea said. “There is always an ample supply and it’s provided on request.”
Hudson County is one of four facilities in New Jersey that houses detainees for ICE. The contract helps offset the cost of operating the jail.
Detainee rights activists had been pressing the county to cease housing ICE detainees.
U.S. Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker spoke out in 2016 about conditions at the facilities in the state, raising concerns about multiple reports of inhumane conditions in immigration detention centers, which includes lack of adequate medical attention when detainees need it.
The United States has the largest number of immigration detentions in the world, detaining approximately 380,000 to 442,000 persons per year. Hudson County detainee population varies but was last reported at more than between 500 to 600.
Two deaths started probe
Two deaths at Hudson County Correctional Facility last year prompted the freeholders to establish a committee to look into the basic rights of inmates. This included a formal independent medical advocacy review committee.
First Friends of NJ NY, a volunteer visiting group that helps provide some resources for detainees, noted that the freeholders voted to award a five-year $29.4 million contract to CFG Health Systems in 2015, the company responsible for the health care of inmates.
“Most detainees have no legal rights, and might be better off in a regular prison,” said Rev. Birgit Solano, pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Weehawken, a member of First Friends, in an interview after one death was reported at the jail in 2016
First Friends member Lorna Henkel in Secaucus has raised concerns about the detainees in Hudson County and elsewhere, focusing on their lack of rights and access to health services.
In an official response, ICE promised to better oversight and improvement.
“Based on multi-layered, rigorous inspections and oversight programs, ICE is confident in conditions and high standards of care at its detention facilities,” according a statement issued by the agency, noting the agency has contracted with a variety of consultants and others to improve the conditions cited in the report.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.