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ICE Under Fire For Solitary Confinement Of Immigrants

Above photo: An altar for Charles Leo Daniels and others killed by GEO Group, ICE and the U.S. government is pictured at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, on March 18, 2024. La Resistencia NW via Instagram.

Internal records reveal the man recently found dead at a privately run ICE prison spent nearly four years in solitary.

The 61-year-old man who was recently found dead of suspected suicide at a privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison in Washington state served the second-longest stretch in solitary confinement of any person in ICE custody since 2018, according to a new analysis by human rights experts.

Charles Leo Daniel, a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, was found dead while in solitary confinement on March 7 after being incarcerated at the Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) near Tacoma for about four years. Between April 2020 and September 2023, Daniel was held in solitary confinement for a total of 1,244 days divided between two stints, according to internal ICE records obtained by the University of Washington (UW) Center for Human rights.

According to migrants rights group La Resistencia, at least five suicide attempts have occurred at NWDC and more than 300 people have gone on hunger strike since Daniel’s death. Two of the attempts occurred just days after Daniel’s death, and the others could not be immediately verified. NWDC is run by GEO Group, a private prison company that over the years has been accused of human rights abuses and exploiting prisoners to turn a profit at immigration jails and prisons across the country.

The UW Center for Human Rights report on Daniel’s death is a research update to a multipart investigation into dangerous conditions at the NWDC. It’s part of a national effort by researchers to shine a light on what activists say amounts to torture: the “egregious overuse” of solitary confinement in immigration jails and prisons run by ICE and its contractors.

“While there is still a lot we don’t know about Mr. Daniel’s death, the findings we are presenting today show that his rights were violated for years at the hands of ICE and GEO, and these abuses may have contributed to his death,” said Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, director of the UW Center for Human Rights and author of the report, in a statement.

Immigration prisons have faced criticism and protests over inhumane conditions and the use of solitary confinement for years. Meanwhile, politicians put images of migrants crossing the southern border at the center of a sensationalist and often racist debate over immigration policy. Immigrant rights activists say the level of carceral violence would explode if former President Donald Trump is reelected and carries out his plans for mass detention camps and deportations.

Even short stays in solitary confinement increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), self-harm and suicide, while prolonged confinement can lead to lasting brain damage, hallucinations and reduced cognitive function.

These harms are well-documented, and in 2013 ICE issued a directive to limit the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention, particularly for people with health vulnerabilities. ICE more recently updated requirements for reporting how long people with mental health conditions are held in solitary, highlighting the need for oversight over private prison contractors, according to a study released last month by Harvard Law School and Physicians for Human Rights. However, the study found that immigration jails and prisons “fail to comply with ICE guidelines and directives regarding solitary confinement.”

ICE oversaw more than 14,000 placements in solitary confinement between 2018 and 2023, according to the study. Many of these people reported being placed in solitary for small infractions or in retaliation for participating in hunger strikes. Many also reported inadequate access to medical and mental health care in solitary, which led to or exasperated symptoms consistent with depression, anxiety and PTSD.

The study also found that NWDC has one of the highest average length of stays in solitary confinement in the nation, ranking ninth out of the 125 immigration jails and prisons across the U.S. that make up the world’s largest system for incarcerating noncitizens.

La Resistencia said the rash of suicide attempts at NWDC comes as 143 detainees reached their 11th day on a hunger strike on Monday. Several activists camped outside the facility are also on hunger strike to amplify the demands of those inside.

“We are calling for an end to the cruel practice of solitary confinement; an independent investigation of the death of Mr. Daniel, and everyone who has suffered at the hands of ICE and GEO; an accountability and reparations process; and we call for the complete shutdown of the Northwest Detention Center,” said La Resistencia co-founder Maru Mora Villalpando in a statement while on hunger strike.

Hunger strikes are nothing new at the NWDC, one of the nation’s largest immigration prisons run by ICE and its contractors. With support on the outside from La Resistencia and other activists, prisoners at NWDC have undertaken a series of hunger strikes over the years in protest of solitary confinement, allegations of medical neglect and inhumane living conditions that public health researchers have called “abysmal.”

NWDC has been locked in a court battle with Washington state over an attempt by lawmakers to hold GEO Group accountable for inhumane conditions at the facility. On March 10, just days after Daniel’s death, a federal judge in Tacoma blocked the state from enforcing most a state law meant to improve living conditions and oversight at NWDC by allowing state regulators to make unannounced inspections and issue fines.

“Charles Daniel’s death is, without a doubt, tragic. Yet after years of efforts to address abuses at the facility through litigation, lawmaking, and public advocacy, none of us can pretend it is a surprise,” Godoy wrote in conclusion of the research update on Daniel’s death.

Preliminary reports from Tacoma first responders list Daniel’s cause of death as unknown, and local police handed the investigation into his death over to ICE.

In a statement, ICE said Daniel was convicted of murder in 2003 and served his 18-year sentence in a state prison. After his sentence, he was transferred to ICE custody in March 2020 after a federal immigration judge ordered him to be deported. Immigrant rights advocates call it “double punishment” when immigrants serve out their sentence in the U.S. and are then incarcerated on immigration charges due to their criminal records.

“ICE remains committed to ensuring that all those in its custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments,” the statement from ICE reads. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment individuals arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay.”

Professor Godoy, the human rights expert who authored the new report on Daniel’s death and time in solitary, would beg to differ.

“This underscores the need for a full, independent investigation,” Godoy said. “We have no confidence in the current plan for ICE to investigate itself.”

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