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ICE Detention Center Inspections Repeatedly Fall Short

Otay detention center

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for approximately 38,000 immigrant detainees in more than 200 detention centers across the country. However, the agency’s inspections of living conditions in these detention centers are either ineffective or infrequent, and “certain deficiencies remain unaddressed for years,” according to an internal government investigation.

This is especially concerning given that ICE is preparing to hold tens of thousands more people in the near future as a result of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

A large number of detention center inspections aren’t conducted by ICE at all, but by Nakamoto Group Inc., a government contractor based in Rockville, Maryland. Nakamoto inspects about 100 detention centers every year, according to the investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (IG). As the Project On Government Oversight previously reported, ICE relies heavily on contractors, many of which have records of misconduct.

The IG found that Nakamoto’s inspections weren’t thorough, and that inspectors repeatedly failed to document important issues.

“Typically, three to five inspectors have only 3 days to complete the inspection, interview 85 to 100 detainees, brief facility staff, and begin writing their inspection report for ICE,” the IG wrote.

After observing Nakamoto’s interviews with detainees, which were brief, conducted only in English, and did not allow the detainees any privacy from facility staff to speak freely about conditions, the IG concluded, “We would not characterize them as interviews.”

Additionally, the IG found that some Nakamoto inspectors “relied on brief answers from facility staff and merely reviewed written policies and procedures instead of observing and evaluating facility conditions.”

In one case, facility staff told Nakamoto that they placed two detainees in what is called “administrative segregation”—that is, solitary confinement that’s not meant to be punitive—because there was no room for the detainees in general housing. ICE standards require that the use of solitary confinement be closely monitored and documented. Nakamoto did not attempt to substantiate the facility staff’s claim or check for documentation, according to the IG.

However, the IG did find that some inspections were done well—those conducted by ICE’s own Office of Detention Oversight (ODO). However, the ODO inspections are too infrequent to hold detention centers accountable for cleaning up their acts, according to the IG.

“Although ODO thoroughly assesses and reports on a facility’s deficiencies and compliance, the deficiencies may go unnoticed or unreported for 3 years, and ODO cannot evaluate whether a facility has corrected them until its next inspection,” the investigation said.

What’s more, the same problems are found at ICE detention centers again and again. The IG reported in 2017 that problems it first found in 2006 still hadn’t been addressed by the agency.

“The frequency of repeat deficiencies in the same facilities, and the high number of deficiencies inspectors identify at facilities expose the problems associated with ICE’s inability to consistently follow up on corrective actions,” the recent IG investigation said.

The IG cited the example of facilities that continue to routinely strip search all incoming detainees—a practice that is not allowed without “reasonable suspicion.”

“Even well documented deficiencies that facilities commit to fixing routinely remain uncorrected for years,” the IG wrote.

By: Mia Steinle
Investigator, POGO

Mia Steinle, Investigator Mia Steinle is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight and the civil society coordinator for the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Her work focuses on government management of the oil, gas, and mining industries.

Topics: Government Accountability, Contract Oversight

Related Content: Immigrant Detention, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Contractor Accountability, Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Authors: Mia Steinle

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