ICE audits its detention centers, but too infrequently too keep anyone in check and doesn’t follow up to make sure changes are made, a government report issued last month disclosed. The agency has very little capacity to make sure that its sprawling network of over 200 immigration prisons meets the government’s own standards. Worse, glaring deficiencies go uncorrected, sometimes deliberately, because ICE’s oversight system is hobbled by lack of funding and under-attention.
The DHS Inspector General’s document, issued June 26, reads like an ICE abolitionist’s talking points. Inspections are either “too infrequent” or the agency “does not adequately follow up.” As a result, facility inspections performed by either private contractor Nakamoto Group, Inc. or ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight, “do not ensure adequate oversight or systemic improvements in detention conditions, with some deficiencies remaining unaddressed for years.”
Of the 211 facilities ICE used in fiscal year 2017, for example, Nakamoto inspected 116. That’s a reasonable percentage of ICE prison estate, but the inspections are anywhere between superficial and shoddy. Simply, Nakamoto doesn’t have enough inspectors to do its job adequately. As a result, shortcuts are common, as the Inspector General documented. In several instances described in the report, Nakamoto employees declared that standards were being met despite reviewing written policies only and never observing whether those policies were actually being followed. At other times, they didn’t follow-up to ensure that standards were followed even when it concerned detainees placed in solitary confinement (called administrative segregation). Nakamoto also failed to follow its own inspection protocol. For example, the Inspector General observed Nakamoto employees asking detainees about conditions of confinement “in the presence of detention facility personnel.” No Nakamoto employee observed interviewed any detainee in a language other than English. More egregiously, at one point a Nakamoto inspector had a guard translate.
ICE has no plans to ensure that Nakamoto’s inspections are adequate. ICE ERO told the Inspector General it lacks the “‘right tools’ to evaluate Nakamoto performance.”
By contrast, ICE’s Office of Detention Oversight inspected only 33 facilities in FY 2017. At that rate, it gets to each facility about once every three years. This, the Inspector General concluded, is “too infrequent to ensure the facilities implement all corrections.” Like with Nakamoto’s inspections, ODO inspections are “scheduled in advance and announced to the facilities, which, according to ICE field staff, allows facility management to temporarily modify practice to ‘pass’ an inspection.” In addition, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations has little interest in what ODO finds. Though ERO is required to respond with corrections or proposed remedies of all deficiencies within 55 days of being notified by ODO, the Inspector General found that “in FY 2015 and FY 2016, ERO field offices only responded to 8 of 20 and 12 of 25 ODO inspection [reports], respectively. Further, in 2015 and 2016, some field offices [responded] from 2 to 6 months past the 55-day deadline.”
More egregiously, some facilities affirmatively refused to comply with applicable standards flagged as deficient. One facility, for example, said it wouldn’t change its policy of barring detainees from helping one another with legal documents even though ICE policy says they must.
ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations unit also places Detention Service Managers in a minority of facilities—35 managers inspected 54 facilities in FY 2017—that hold roughly 70 percent of all ICE detainees. These individuals “have the expertise to propose appropriate corrective actions [when they find that a facility is not complying with an applicable standard], but not the authority to implement them.” In some facilities, ICE ERO poses an obstacle to efforts by DSMs to ensure compliance with detention standards.
Because oversight is so poor, there is no assurance that ICE’s facilities meet the agency’s own confinement standards. Actually, the opposite is true. For example, the Inspector General explained, “several facilities continue to strip search all incoming detainees without establishing reasonable suspicion, as required by detention standards…Other examples of repeat deficiencies include facilities failing to notify ICE about alleged or proven sexual assaults.”
This is not a pretty picture of a prison network that in FY 2017 held 323,591 people, including children. With the Trump administration looking to imprison more migrants—most recently by claiming that a court order requires it to imprison parents alongside children—we should expect that this poorly overseen prison archipelago will affect many more people.