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Immigration advocates call for limits on solitary confinement

Posted: Sept. 25, 2012 | Tags: immigration

A group of doctors and immigrant advocates have called for federal officials to stop what they consider widespread abuse of solitary confinement for immigrants in detention.

The Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center and Physicians for Human Rights condemned the practice in a report released Tuesday. It accuses guards of repeatedly placing immigrants in isolation cells, without access to lawyers or medical evaluation, for arbitrary reasons. Detention centers often separate gay and transgender immigrants, as well as detainees with mental health problems, for weeks and months at a time, according to the report.

“The government cannot continue to detain people whose health and safety it cannot protect,” Alexis Perlmutter, acting director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center, said at a news conference.

The Investigative Reporting Workshop's 2011 PBS Frontline co-production “Lost in Detention” examined the hidden populations inside immigration detention. We uncovered claims of widespread abuse of immigrant detainees who have little legal representation or access to outside. While more is known about use of solitary in prisons, very little is known about what happens inside isolation cells in immigration detention.

The groups  obtained logs and files from 32 detention centers in 23 states and visited seven detention centers to compile information for the report. Some facilities are run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; others are ICE-contracted local jails and private detention centers.

The team recorded cases in which solitary confinement was used “to cloak assault, discrimination and other abuses within the facility,” the report says.

Tuesday's report identified some cases of detainees who were placed in solitary confinement:

  • McHenry County Correctional Facility, Ill.: A domestic-violence survivor awaiting a visa spent weeks in solitary confinement as punishment for having an extra blanket, bra and socks in her cell. She was later sent again for placing her shampoo bottle on a window sill and for having newspaper articles in her cell.
  • Butler County Jail, Ohio: A woman was sentenced to 30 days in solitary confinement without visitation privileges as punishment for playing cards during church services.
  • Tri-County Detention Center, Ill.: A Muslim man from Yemen was placed in solitary confinement for weeks during Ramadan because he didn’t want to join others in the cafeteria during meals. He was later sent there again for trying to translate on behalf of a fellow detainee who didn’t speak English.

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