by Spencer Woodman, reprinted with permission from The Intercept
In June, officials at a privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in rural Georgia sentenced an immigrant detainee to a month in solitary confinement to punish him for encouraging fellow detainees to stop working in protest of low wages at the facility. Three days after the detainee shouted “no work, no pay” in a facility kitchen, according to ICE records, “the detainee was found guilty of encouraging others to participate in a work stoppage and was sentenced to 30 days of disciplinary segregation.”
Immigrants confined in ICE facilities often work for only $1 per day, but the immigration agency’s guidelines state that all such work must be voluntary. Earlier this year, a federal judge cleared the way for a class-action lawsuit originally brought by nine ICE detainees alleging that ICE contractor the GEO Group had profited off forced labor in violation of federal anti-slavery laws.
In the case of the Georgia facility, ICE’s records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request simply list “work stoppage” as the reason for using solitary confinement to punish the immigrant detainee, who is originally from Haiti.
In response to questions from The Intercept, ICE did not attempt to defend this use of solitary confinement at the facility, Stewart Detention Center, which is run by private prison contractor CoreCivic (formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America).
An ICE spokesperson said that detainee labor at Stewart is governed by the agency’s “voluntary work program” and sent a link to ICE detention standards, which state, “Detainees shall be able to volunteer for work assignments but otherwise shall not be required to work, except to do personal housekeeping.” The spokesperson told The Intercept to contact CoreCivic for questions regarding the disciplinary action.
Azadeh Shahshahani, an attorney with the Atlanta-based social justice group Project South, who has extensively criticized conditions at Stewart, said in an email that this is not the first hint of forced work at the privately run facility.
“This is extremely disturbing,” Shahshahani said. “We keep hearing from ICE and the prison corporation that the program is ‘voluntary.’ We have always questioned how a labor program in a corporate prison setting for sub-minimum wages could be truly voluntary. In the past, we had documented at least one instance where detained immigrants who did not want to work were threatened with being put in the hole.”
In response to questions about the Haitian immigrant’s placement in solitary confinement, CoreCivic did not provide any details but broadly defended the quality of its services.
“Providing a safe, humane, and appropriate environment for those entrusted to our care is our top priority, and we work in close coordination with our partners at ICE to ensure the well-being of the detainees at Stewart Detention Center,” CoreCivic spokesperson Jonathan Burns said in an email.
Burns also disputed The Intercept’s use of the term solitary confinement to refer to conditions in which detainees are held in isolation for the vast majority of each day.
“CoreCivic does not use ‘solitary confinement’ at Stewart Detention Center (nor at any of our other facilities),” Burns said. “I’d submit to you that using the term in your coverage with regard to Steward [sic] would give readers a false impression of the reality of restricted housing at the facility.”
CoreCivic has previously raised similar objections to this wording. Burns sent The Intercept a list of amenities at the Stewart facility’s restrictive housing unit, including law library access, visitation, mail, visits with ICE, an hour of recreation each day, and access to showers on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Burns said that the Stewart facility follows the standards for ICE’s voluntary work program. He did not respond to a question asking whether the Haitian detainee was earning any wage at all for his labor.
This article was originally published on October 10, 2017. Reprinted with permission from The Intercept.
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