Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

California: A Prison by any Other Name is Still a Prison

by Ed Lyon

The City of Adelanto in San Bernardino County, California owns a detention center – not a prison – according to Pablo Paez, a spokesman for the GEO Group, a private prison firm. “The ICE Processing Centers operated by our company are very different than local jails and prison facilities and we strongly reject that [prison] characterization,” he said.

GEO Group operates the facility for the city, which in turn is paid by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees waiting for asylum and deportation hearings – proceedings that can drag out for years.

GEO receives up to $112 per day per detainee, and described Adelanto as a “state-of-the-art, culturally responsive residential center” with “artificial soccer fields, flat-screen televisions and modern classrooms with up-to-date technology.” The 409,000 square foot “not a prison” is surrounded by barbed wire fences.

Adelanto also offers “around the clock medical care,” according to GEO.

But in April 2015, Sergio Alonso Lopez died after being taken to the infirmary when he began vomiting blood. The following month, Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga died en route to a hospital from “acute coronary syndrome.” On December 23, 2015, Jose Azurdia-Hernandez had a fatal heart attack. Earlier that year, Raul Morales Ramos died after begging for medical help for years; a doctor later said Ramos had an abdominal tumor that was the “largest she had ever seen in her practice.” Three more detainees died at Adelanto within a three-month period in mid-2017.

Attorney Mayra Gomez has represented many Adelanto detainees in deportation cases, yet finds herself spending much of her time seeking medical care for them.

The “not a prison” sports windowless dormitories featuring roll-call head counts, security guards and repeated hunger strikes. Former detainee Carlos Hidalgo said residents often went hungry due to the small food portions.

At breakfast on June 12, 2017, a group of detainees tried to hand a letter to a guard and asked to speak to someone who would listen to their complaints about high bail amounts, inadequate medical care and poor food. They were denied, so they linked arms and refused to leave. Guards reportedly pepper sprayed and beat them. At a hearing before immigration judge Jose Penalosa, detainee Omar Rivera Martinez showed the judge his broken nose and a gap where his teeth used to be before he was beaten. The judge said he would note Martinez’s complaints.

ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice said GEO guards had “applied the necessary force” to remove the hunger strikers “to a restricted housing area.” On June 14, 2017, 30 female detainees at Adelanto staged a 24-hour hunger strike until they were given medical care. Those protests mirrored others at immigration detention centers nationwide. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.26].

“They house you like a criminal, they treat you like a criminal,” said former detainee Hidalgo. “There, you’re seen like a criminal, therefore what is that? A prison.”

So when is a prison not a prison? When GEO and ICE call it a residential center. 


As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login