“If I spoke too loudly, solitary. If I climbed on top of a table to get a guard’s attention, solitary. If I had suicidal thoughts, solitary. When the guards would tease me about being deported back to my home country and make airplane sounds at me and gesture like a plane was taking me away, I would become upset and then get solitary for being upset.”
This is the reality that people are subjected to at the Denver Contract Detention Facility in Aurora, Colorado. This prison—where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains people with pending or recently completed immigration proceedings—has a pattern of excessively using solitary confinement.
This week, the American Immigration Council, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN) filed a complaint with multiple oversight bodies, citing the gross misuse of solitary confinement, as well as other instances of inadequate medical services at the GEO Group-owned facility.
This is the fourth complaint the Council has been involved in filing against the Aurora facility in the last four years concerning medical care, discrimination, excessive use of force, and other abuses. In this most recent complaint, eight individuals currently or recently detained at the Aurora facility provided first-hand accounts of their experiences with attempting to access medical care and the inappropriate, punitive use of solitary confinement.
A recurrent theme in the complaint is the use of solitary confinement for people with significant mental health illnesses. Each of these individuals reported rapid deterioration when put into solitary, with some being pushed to hallucinations. While ICE requires specific review of confinement when someone is placed in solitary (also referred to as the Solitary Housing Unit or “SHU”), it was universally reported in the complaint that this was not done(also referred to as the Solitary Housing Unit or “SHU”), it was universally reported in the complaint that this was not done.
In addition to a lack of review after someone was sent to solitary confinement, the complaint includes reports of extreme misuse of solitary in the first place. For example, one individual reported that he was first placed in the SHU for eating too slowly. Another reported being threatened with solitary if he did not switch the bunk he was sleeping on. The use and threat of solitary to compel compliance is in contradiction to ICE’s own directive.
The complaint also cites the facility’s noncompliance with federal disability law. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973—which ICE agrees applies to its facilities—requires a facility to reasonably accommodate someone with a disability. Such disability includes physical, psychological, and intellectual disabilities. Specifically, section 504, as well as ICE detention standards, require that people with disabilities have access to necessary healthcare.
In practice, however, the threat of putting someone in solitary confinement acts as a deterrent to those particularly with mental health disabilities from accessing care, for fear of being put in solitary. Additionally, when people tried to access mental health services, they reported grossly inadequate and inappropriate care, including the use of religious doctrine in the place of medical mental health services. This type of neglect has resulted in multiple deaths in the last few years.
The complaint ultimately requests a recommendation from oversight bodies to close the facility, due to its long history of repeated inability or unwillingness to provide adequate health care and abuse of detained individuals. Short of closure, the complaint requests an investigation into the reports of malfeasance of individual staff members with holds on deportations of complainants, systemic changes to policies related to the use of solitary confinement, additional training for staff on the duties of care required under ICE standards and federal law, and oversight specifically of compliance with section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.
Advocates have been filing requests with government oversight bodies for years regarding the same issues of medical negligence, discrimination, and the misuse of punitive measures at the Aurora facility. It is time for the oversight bodies to recognize that these problems will not be meaningfully addressed, and to recommend its closure.
FILED UNDER: Colorado, GEO Group, Immigration and Customs Enforcement