by Matt Clarke
A surprise inspection by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General revealed a number of substandard conditions at an Orange County, California jail used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees.
The Theo Lacy Facility is a 3,000-bed jail that contracts with ICE to hold over 500 male immigrant detainees. It has a history of problems, including a 2013 grand jury investigation that found sheriff’s deputies slept or played video games instead of performing their duties, and used jailhouse enforcers to punish other prisoners; a 2015 federal complaint alleging deputies abused detainees and denied them medical care; and a 2016 hunger strike over poor conditions. [See, e.g.: PLN, May 2009, p.26; Feb. 2009, p.1].
On November 16, 2016, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an unannounced inspection of the Theo Lacy jail. The OIG’s subsequent report, issued in March 2017, found conditions that “raised serious concerns, some that pose health risks and others that violate [ICE standards] and result in potentially unsafe conditions at the facility.” The report recommended that ICE take immediate action to strengthen oversight and ensure compliance with its standards.
The inspection found that detainees were being served substandard and even dangerous food, including spoiled lunch meat. It also cited moldy showers, trash in cells and broken phones.
Some “high risk” detainees were being housed in units where they could mix with “low-risk” detainees, while some “low-risk” detainees were held in more restrictive units. The basis for such housing decisions was not properly documented. The reasons for moves from less-restrictive to more-restrictive units were not explained to detainees, nor were they given an opportunity to appeal such decisions in violation of ICE standards.
Detainees held in administrative segregation for disciplinary reasons were locked in their cells 24 hours a day and denied regular visitation, religious visits and telephone access, also in violation of ICE standards.
Neither ICE nor the Orange County Sheriff’s Department properly documented detainees’ grievances, and detainees were not afforded opportunities to appeal unsuccessful grievances.
“After months of inaction by the O.C. Sheriff’s Department and ICE, we are glad to see that the Inspector General has taken our complaints seriously,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of CIVIC, now known as Freedom for Immigrants – the organization that filed a federal complaint against the jail in 2015.
“The federal government needs to end its relationship with the O.C. Sheriff’s Department and stop squandering taxpayer dollars on detaining immigrants in a system rife with human and civil rights abuses,” Fialho added.
ICE agreed with recommendations made by the OIG, and the Sheriff’s Department said all of the issues raised in the report had already been addressed. The union representing deputies at the Theo Lacy jail belittled the seriousness of the problems.
“We are pleased that the Inspector General’s findings were not of a more serious nature,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.
Of course the deputies were not the ones being served spoiled meat, or held in unsanitary conditions that violated ICE standards.
Sources: “Management Alert on Issues Requiring Immediate Action at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, California,” OIG-17-43-MA (March 6, 2017); www.ocregister.com; www.freedomforimmigrants.org
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