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For Immediate Release

New Report Exposes Inhumane Use of Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention System

Cambridge, Mass. - 09/25/2012

Immigrants in detention facilities around the United States are often subjected to punitive and long-term solitary confinement and denied meaningful avenues of appeal, according to an investigation by PHR and Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC).

Investigators with the two human rights groups surveyed conditions in more than a dozen detention centers and county jails that contract with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The resulting report, Invisible in Isolation: The Use of Segregation and Solitary Confinement in Immigration Detention, is the first comprehensive examination of the effects of solitary confinement on immigration detainees.

While the harm caused by solitary confinement to inmates in prisons and jails has been well documented, the new report shows that solitary confinement of immigrants in detention is often arbitrarily applied, inadequately monitored, harmful to their health, and a violation of their due process rights. In the report, PHR and NIJC call on ICE and Congress to end solitary confinement in immigration detention, severely limit other forms of segregation, and implement stricter oversight of the detention system.

“The point of immigration detention isn’t to punish people,” said Mike Corradini, PHR’s asylum advocacy associate and co-author of the report, “so the immigration detention system shouldn’t be relying on jails in the first place. But we found instances of guards throwing people in solitary for minor infractions, or because they are mentally ill, or for helping other detainees file complaints about conditions.”

“This investigation shows us just how deeply the immigration detention system’s troubles run.” said NIJC Executive Director Mary Meg McCarthy. “Immigrants who are not dangerous and should not be detained at all are being put in lockdown for 23 hours a day and become invisible as they face egregious human rights violations. Immigration detainees should not be subject to solitary confinement. ICE must hold detention facilities accountable to end this practice.”

The human rights groups uncovered numerous cases in which detention facilities placed mentally ill immigrants in solitary confinement rather than treating them, or separated sexual minorities against their wishes from the general inmate population. Many immigration detainees in solitary confinement had strict limits placed on such “privileges” as outdoor recreation, reading material, and even access to legal counsel. Overall, investigators found, ICE has failed to hold detention centers and jails accountable for their abusive use of solitary confinement.

“What’s even more disturbing is what we don’t know — how many immigrants are kept in solitary confinement, how long they’re held, and who they are,” said Corradini. “If Congress and ICE are going to continue using jails to hold immigrants, they need to make sure that they know what’s going on in these facilities. We can’t allow jails to throw immigrants in solitary confinement whenever they feel like it.”

“If ICE feels it cannot keep immigration detainees safe without resorting to solitary confinement, then it needs to release those individuals and expand alternatives to detention programs,” said Alexis Perlmutter, NIJC acting director of policy and co-author of the report. “No human being should be subjected to the human rights violations we uncovered in this investigation.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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