Immigrants mistreated in Florida detention centers, inspectors find
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Detained immigrants, some restrained without justification, have been living with spoiled food, moldy bathrooms and limited recreation at detention centers run by a company based in Boca Raton, the Department of Homeland Security has found.
In unannounced inspections at Geo Group centers from May to November 2018, Homeland Security also found that detainees were segregated in violation of their rights and prohibited from visits with family members.
Geo Group is one of the nation’s largest detention contractors, this year striking new agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Marshals Service to operate detention centers for the growing numbers of immigrants being held before legal proceedings.
Geo operates detention centers across the country.
“The findings identified in this report pertaining to GEO-operated facilities were swiftly corrected last year,” a Geo Group spokesman said in a statement Monday. “We take seriously any shortcomings in our delivery of consistent, high-quality care, taking immediate action as needed. We always strive to provide culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments that meet the needs of the individuals in the care of federal immigration authorities.”
The report, released in June, concerns Geo’s detention centers in Adelanto, Calif; Aurora, Colo.; and LaSalle, La. Inspectors also made unannounced visits and cited violations at the Essex immigration center in Essex, N.J., which is a county-owned center. The four immigration centers house nearly 5,000 detainees, according to the report.
ICE field offices that oversee the detention centers have addressed many issues cited in the report, but some continue, the report says.
ICE detainees are supposed to be held “in civil, not criminal, custody, which is not punitive,” the report says, noting that national standards of detainee care include environmental and health safety; medical care and personal hygiene; visitation and recreation; and a grievance system. The Office of Inspector General says its report confirms grievances by detainees that the ICE detention centers were violating those standards.
At Geo’s centers, some detainees were “prematurely placed” in disciplinary segregation before being found guilty of an offense. “Disciplinary segregation alone does not constitute a valid reason for restraints,” the report says. Yet three facilities used handcuffs on detainees while they were outside their cells, according to the inspector general.
At Geo’s Adelanto center, some segregated detainees were not allowed regular showers or recreation, according to the report. Others detainees were allowed recreation only three days a week instead of every day.
National standards call for detention centers to have cleanliness and sanitation “at the highest levels.” But bathrooms at Geo’s Adelanto center had mold permeating the walls, ceiling, vents and shower stalls, which can lead to allergic reactions and serious illness for the detainees, inspectors said in the report.
Detainees are supposed to be allowed time with approved visitors. Yet Geo’s Aurora center didn’t allow any in-person visits by children or other family members, according to detainees interviewed by federal inspectors.