Conditions at Pinal County Jail Belie Obama Administration’s Stated Commitment to Create a “Truly Civil” Immigration Detention System
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PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona today demanded that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials remove immigration detainees from the Pinal County Jail (PCJ) or immediately remedy unconstitutional conditions at the facility, where hundreds of detainees are held in unsanitary conditions and subjected to abuse, despite the government’s pledge to create a “truly civil” immigration detention system.
In a letter sent today to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton and other top government officials, the ACLU charges that an investigation into the jail has revealed unacceptable conditions of confinement that are indisputably punitive, despite the fact that the immigration detainees there are held on civil, and not criminal, charges.
“[Conditions at the Pinal County Jail] violate the U.S. Constitution, as well as ICE’s own National Detention Standards, and continue in spite of the Obama administration’s pledge – honored mostly in the breach – to establish a truly civil system of immigration detention,” the ACLU’s letter reads. “The confinement of immigration detainees at PCJ, at least under current conditions, has no place in any system that aspires to civility.”
The ACLU demanded decent conditions in the jail’s immigration detention units in a March 2011 letter to ICE officials, after reports that approximately 90 detainees had begun a hunger strike to protest conditions at the jail. Prior to that, the ACLU raised concerns about conditions affecting women and religious minorities and excessive use of force by jail guards. ACLU officials toured the jail this past March and have conducted extensive correspondence and in-person meetings with detainees throughout the past three years.
According to today’s letter, the ACLU investigation has revealed multiple violations of rights guaranteed by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, including a total deprivation of outdoor exercise, even for those detained for as long as five years, a denial of face-to-face visits with loved ones and inadequate sanitation and access to personal hygiene items.
Detainees also report that their cries for medical help are often ignored. They are subjected to frequent lockdowns, daily cell searches and regular confiscation of reading materials and commissary goods. Detainees have complained of receiving vermin-infested food served on dirty trays. Insects and worms are sometimes found in faucets, according to detainees who also say they are not given enough supplies to keep their living areas sanitary or maintain personal hygiene.
Jail officials have acknowledged that the harsh conditions experienced by civil immigration detainees are indistinguishable from those under which persons facing criminal charges are held, according to the ACLU’s letter, a violation of both the U.S. Constitution and ICE’s own detention standards. Indeed, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has ruled that civil detainees are entitled to “more considerate treatment” than those detained as part of a criminal process.
“Despite ICE officials’ acknowledgement of the need for immigration detention reform and the Obama administration’s oft-cited pledge to create a ‘truly civil detention system,’ the conditions at the Pinal County Jail have not improved and effectively punish ICE detainees,” the ACLU’s letter reads. “The continued pattern of inhumane treatment and deficient conditions at PCJ – conditions inconsistent even with constitutional minima for convicted prisoners – not only make a mockery of the administration’s stated commitment to humane detention reform, but also present an invitation to suit.”
A copy of the ACLU’s letter is available at: