Inspector General: ICE Detention Facility Inspections Are A Joke
from the and-a-running-joke,-at-that dept
With ICE doing increased business everywhere in the US, the need to place detainees somewhere has never been greater. The president may have rescinded his demand families be separated and tossed into “foster care or whatever,” but that just means detainee housing now has to cater to the needs of the young and old alike.
The government has a duty of care for every person it locks up. The duty is still there. The care isn’t. The way prisoners are routinely treated shows the government thinks of arrestees and prisoners as something less than human. The way it treats people who aren’t even citizens is bound to be worse. The only mitigating factor is there are fewer immigrants to keep track of. But that shouldn’t be taken to mean the average amount of “care” is slightly higher.
A new Inspector General’s report [PDF] lets readers know where it’s going from page one. Here’s the title of ICE OIG report:
ICE’s Inspections and Monitoring of Detention Facilities Do Not Lead to Sustained Compliance or Systemic Improvements
And here are a few pull quotes from the summary:
ICE contracts with a private company and also relies on its Office of Detention Oversight for inspections. ICE also uses an onsite monitoring program. Yet, neither the inspections nor the onsite monitoring ensure consistent compliance with detention standards, nor do they promote comprehensive deficiency corrections.
ICE’s guidance on procedures is unclear; and the contractor’s inspection practices are not consistently thorough. As a result, the inspections do not fully examine actual conditions or identify all deficiencies.
There’s some good news there as well, once your expectations have been sufficiently lowered.
In contrast, ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight uses effective practices to thoroughly inspect facilities and identify deficiencies…
these inspections are too infrequent to ensure the facilities implement all deficiency corrections.
The inspections are either done badly and infrequently or effectively and infrequently. Either way, there’s almost no followup on problems found and corrective measures are usually years away, if they bother to arrive at all.
ICE has 211 detention facilities housing more than 38,000 detainees. This is just one set of facilities for longer-term detentions. These are inspected by a government contractor (Nakamoto Group, Inc.) periodically, but never at a rate of once a year for all facilities. Nakamoto, at best, can apparently only handle 80-120 inspections a year.
Short-term detention facilities are overseen by the Office of Detention Oversight. These inspections are more thorough, but very rarely actually happen.
ODO inspected 23 facilities in FY 2015, 29 in FY 2016, and 33 in FY 2017.
The report notes ODO also inspects the facilities Nakamoto does, but “far less frequently.” A third group (Detention Service Managers) “continuously monitors compliance” at several facilities, but based on the IG’s findings, it appears to be unable to fulfill its mission statement.
Nakamoto’s inspections cannot be said to have ever been complete or thorough. The contractor sends out 3-5 inspectors and gives them three days to inspect the facility, pull records, interview 85-100 inmates, and write their report. The entire inspection process relies on maximum corner cutting.
[W]e saw some inspectors observing and validating “the actual conditions at the facility,” per the SOW, but other Nakamoto inspectors relied on brief answers from facility staff and merely reviewed written policies and procedures instead of observing and evaluating facility conditions. Some inspectors did not consistently look at documentation to substantiate responses from staff or ensure the facility was actually implementing the policies and procedures.
When it came to interviewing detainees, Nakamoto somehow managed to be even less thorough.
For the two inspections we observed, Nakamoto reported interviewing between 85 and 100 detainees, but the interviews we saw during these two inspections did not comply with the SOW and we would not characterize them as interviews. The SOW requires detainee interviews to include “private conversations with individual detainees (in a confidential area),” but we did not see any interviews taking place in private settings. Instead, inspectors had brief, mostly group conversations with detainees in their detention dorms or in common areas in the presence of detention facility personnel, generally asking four or five basic questions about treatment, food, medical needs, and opportunities for recreation. Describing these discussions between Nakamoto inspectors and detainees as “interviews” is not consistent with the SOW requirements.
The SOW also requires Nakamoto inspectors to interview detainees who do not speak English, but we did not observe any interviews Nakamoto inspectors conducted in a language other than English, nor any interviews in which inspectors used available DHS translation services. In fact, inspectors selected detainees for interviews by first asking whether they spoke English. During one inspection, a facility guard translated for a detainee. Inspectors did not consistently follow up with the facility or ICE staff on issues detainees raised.
Detainees are just something to be ignored while Nakamoto “inspectors” fill out checklists.
Nakamoto reported “Detainees were familiar with ICE officers and understood how to obtain assistance from ICE officers and the case managers. Interviews yielded positive comments regarding access to library services, access to case managers and visiting opportunities.” However, we heard detainees tell inspectors they did not know the identity of their ICE deportation officer or how to contact the officer. We did not observe inspectors asking any detainees about law library services or visiting opportunities.
Lying on reports also seems to speed up the process.
At one facility, we discovered it was impossible to dial out using any tollfree number, including the OIG Hotline number, due to telephone company restrictions on the facility. We alerted the facility, which started working to correct this facility-wide issue by modifying the directions for dialing tollfree numbers. Although the issue was not corrected until the third day of the inspection, a Nakamoto inspector wrote on a checklist that an inspector could reach the OIG Hotline from several units on the second day of the inspection.
Nakamoto continues to get away with its half-assed effort because ICE doesn’t really care what’s wrong with its facilities and treatment of detainees. The IG notes ICE never performs quality assurance checks on “inspected” facilities, nor has it ever attempted to assess the reliability of Nakamoto’s inspection reports. Of course, officials claimed these things happened when interviewed by the OIG, but the Inspector General could not find any documentation backing up ICE’s assertions about follow-up visits.
With this standard of “care” being exhibited towards detainees, it’s hardly surprising ICE has shown zero concern about violated rights and violated bodies.
[S]everal facilities continue to strip search all incoming detainees without establishing reasonable suspicion, as required by detention standards. Even when inspections documented this as a deficiency, the facilities continued routine strip searches of detainees during intake without proper documentation. Other examples of repeat deficiencies include facilities failing to notify ICE about alleged or proven sexual assaults.
And when things are pointed out often enough ICE can’t ignore them, it just prints out permission slips for continued deficiencies.
In one facility, ICE granted a waiver to allow the comingling of detainees of different custody classification levels. The standard requirement is to avoid comingling of low-custody detainees, who have minor, non-violent criminal histories or only immigration violations, with high-custody detainees, who have histories of serious criminal offenses. The facility asserted that “a corrective plan of action is not readily available due to overwhelming expense, time and space limitations associated with full compliance with the standards…. Separation of detainees by classification levels … may prove to be an undue burden upon the facility.”
At another facility, ICE granted a waiver for the fire prevention, control, and evacuation planning standard, which requires the posting of emergency plans. The facility “expressed safety concerns regarding the posting of such detailed and specific exit diagrams within its detention facility.”
As the Inspector General notes, ICE granting itself forgiveness doesn’t fix anything. All it does is condone terrible standards and terrible treatment of detainees. This isn’t surprising, though. It’s to be expected. The way our country handles prisoners and detainees seems designed to dehumanize them. It reduces them to tallies on roll call sheet whose only purpose is to serve their time as quietly as possible so they don’t make things too tough on those charged with caring for them.
The IG may be serving up a list of recommendations, but experience has shown — as detailed in the title of the report — nothing will come of it.