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ICE detainees are asking to be put in solitary confinement for their own safety

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Documents show widespread use of solitary confinement at immigrant detention centers

LUMPKIN, GA - MAY 4: Detainees at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. are escorted through a corridor.
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Last week it was reported that the Trump administration is eyeing a major expansion of detention facilities for many of the immigrants Trump hopes to deport. The move underscores an often-overlooked reality of Trump’s signature campaign promise: before immigrants are actually expelled from the country, they are generally detained — sometimes for years — as they are processed or as their cases are reviewed. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts out many of its detention facilities to private prison corporations like CoreCivic — formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) — and the GEO Group, which have seen significant increases in their stock prices since Donald Trump’s election.

Hundreds of logs obtained by The Verge through a Freedom of Information Act Request detailing the use of solitary confinement at three of these privately run ICE facilities provide a window into the conditions of desperation and violence that immigrants, including those diagnosed with mental illness, can face inside such detention centers. The logs show that life inside the facilities can be so dangerous and hostile that numerous detainees have voluntarily admitted themselves to solitary confinement just to seek refuge from the general population. In other cases documented in the logs, detainees were disciplined with isolation for perpetrating acts of violence, sexual assault, or disruption; yet others were placed in solitary for more minor infractions, such as charging detainees for haircuts or “horse-playing.” In dozens of instances at a Georgia facility, detainees were placed in solitary confinement for hunger striking; in one case, an detainee with a mental illness was placed in isolation at the request of ICE for reasons that facility officials writing the log readily admitted they did not understand.

Encompassing the entirety of 2016, the logs cover two CoreCivic facilities in Lumpkin, Georgia; Eloy, Arizona; and a third center in Pearsall, Texas, operated by the GEO Group.

The logs were generated for ICE headquarters to detail two categories of detainees: those placed in isolation for more than two weeks, and those who had a range of “special vulnerabilities,” including physical or mental health diagnoses, detainees who had been the victims of sexual assault or those at risk for suicide. In total, the logs list more than 300 instances of this sort of confinement being used last year at the three facilities, with the Lumpkin facility deploying the use of this confinement at a significantly higher rate than the other two detention centers.

In September 2013, the Obama administration issued a directive to ICE seeking to both rein in the agency’s use of solitary confinement and to overhaul its record keeping of the practice, which requires the sort of logs this story cites to be routinely submitted to ICE headquarters. “Placement of detainees in segregated housing is a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives,” the directive states. “In particular, placement in administrative segregation due to a special vulnerability should be used only as a last resort and when no other viable housing options exist.”

Across the three facilities, more than 160 entries address detainees with mental illnesses being placed in isolation, a form of captivity that human rights groups say can amount to torture. Mary Small, the policy director of Detention Watch Network, a group that works to expose and confront problems in US immigration detention facilities, expressed alarm over the recurring use of solitary confinement on detainees with mental illnesses documented in the logs.

“Solitary confinement can be traumatic for anyone but is particularly traumatic for certain groups of people,” said Small. “So to see that even after the implementation of the directive the large number of people who are documented to have mental health issues for whom solitary confinement is being used as way to manage that is really concerning.”

In some of these cases, logs describe detainees who appear in obvious need of psychiatric help being put in isolation for long periods. One log reads that, on June 8th, 2016, CoreCivic staff placed a detainee in isolation for “standing up on his open bay bed and urinating in a cup followed by [the detainee] drinking the same urine.” CoreCivic, with ICE’s blessing, placed this detainee in solitary confinement for nearly a month not for mental health treatment but to discipline him for drinking his urine. The detainee had no attorney to represent him in this disciplinary action, the logs state.

In another case at Lumpkin, a mentally ill detainee was placed in disciplinary isolation because he refused “to be housed in his assigned living area because he says that he is hurting and wants to see medical, medical did see the detainee and done all that they could for the detainee.”

In a case at the Texas facility, GEO Group placed a female detainee with mental illness in punitive isolation for two weeks for “making inappropriate comments to a GEO Officer while in the dormitory.”

The logs contain indications of things being particularly amiss at the Lumpkin facility. As The Verge documented last week, CoreCivic placed dozens of detainees in solitary confinement for hunger striking at the facility in 2016 alone. Additional logs show that CoreCivic’s facilities at Lumpkin were over capacity, causing detainees to be placed in solitary simply because there was no room elsewhere. Two logs state that CoreCivic had placed detainees in isolation simply because its medical unit had no room to house people requiring medical attention.

One entry from Lumpkin expresses confusion about why a detainee was placed in solitary confinement to begin with. In this case, ICE’s Health Services Corps had instructed CoreCivic to place a detainee with a mental health diagnosis in its isolation unit for medical observation. “Awaiting IHSC to advise why, specifically, [detainee] was placed under medical observation,” the log reads. “After repeated requests for information, IHSC did not respond.” CoreCivic released the detainee from solitary the day after he was admitted.

In response to questions from The Verge, CoreCivic and GEO Group provided general responses asserting that their services provide safe and humane environments for their detainees in accordance with federal detention standards, to which, as CoreCivic said, “ICE holds us accountable through direct, daily oversight.” ICE did not respond to a list of emailed questions regarding this story.

In response to questions from The Verge about the CoreCivic and GEO Group facilities, an ICE spokesperson said that the agency’s detention practices “maximizes access to counsel and visitation, promotes recreation, improves conditions of confinement and ensures quality medical, mental health and dental care.” The agency also noted that it uses a variety of facilities — owned by ICE or other parties, such as local governments or private companies — “to meet the agency’s detention needs while achieving the highest possible cost savings for the taxpayer.”

More than a dozen logs referencing alleged violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) at both GEO Group and CoreCivic facilities provide a grim reminder of the dangers that immigrants can face when sent into ICE detention. One detainee at the Lumpkin facility requested to be placed in solitary confinement as a protective measure for at least 12 days after reporting a PREA violation. In another instance, at the GEO Group’s Texas facility, a detainee was kept in solitary confinement for 30 days after he was accused of being the aggressor in two separate PREA violations — one of which was against a detainee he had shared a dormitory with. Prison officials found the detainee guilty of “making sexual proposals or threats” and “engaging in sexual acts.”

Across the three facilities, logs repeatedly describe detainees seeking shelter in solitary confinement from a range of other dangers from the general population.

In October, a detainee who identified as being gay asked CoreCivic to lock him in solitary confinement to escape anti-gay taunting in the Lumpkin facility’s general population. On November 24th, a detainee with a mental health diagnosis was admitted to isolation after “stating that he did not want to be housed in the general population because the detainees make fun of him due to his mental health status.” The detainee was held in solitary for at least a month, although the full duration is unclear because, as the log notes, “the contractor operating the detention facility did not provide their report in due time.”

Also recurring throughout the three facilities are references to detainees requesting to be placed in isolation for fear of falling prey to gang violence.

Just two days after Donald Trump won the presidency on a promise of ramping up ICE’s capabilities, an immigrant detainee at Lumpkin, believing he may become a target of the “MS 13 and Sureno” gangs, asked to be placed protective isolation, where he stayed for nearly a month.

"He feels that some of the detainees who are gang members give him weird looks,” the log states, “and he does not want to be shanked and leave the facility in a body bag."

Logs obtained by The Verge through a Freedom of Information Act Request detail ICE’s use of solitary confinement in 2016 on certain detainees at thee private facilities in Lumpkin, Georgia; Eloy, Arizona; and Pearsall, Texas.

Spencer Woodman is a 2017 John Jay / H.F. Guggenheim Reporting Fellow.