Arizona’s Eloy Detention Center, where private prison corporation CoreCivic holds about 1,400 of ICE’s immigration prisoners, used solitary confinement fifty times in a recent 17-month period, government records show. In response to a FOIA request, I obtained ICE logs of every instance in which someone was placed in segregation at the isolated prison from September 2017 to February 2019. The records paint the picture of a facility that uses segregation to punish people who violate rules or when there aren’t enough resources to help the people locked up.
“Approaching Eloy after sunset, there is an otherworldly feel to it,” I write in my next book Migrating to Prison: America’s Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants, scheduled to be published in December. “Driving there from the highway connecting Tucson to Phoenix, for ten miles the towering cacti straddling the road are all that keeps watch on this lonely stretch of desert.” Perhaps because it’s so isolated, it is easy for conditions inside to deteriorate. In 2018, a lawful permanent resident who had lived in the United States since he was thirteen-years-old, died after only a week inside Eloy. A year later, inmates at a number of immigration prisons, including Eloy, went on a hunger strike to call attention to their treatment. “We go in line — like animals in chain,” the poet Alexandra La Golosa wrote after being locked up at Eloy.
Though ICE custody is touted as non-punitive, the agency and its private contractors regularly employ the harsh tactic of segregation. “Detention facilities, including those housed immigrant detainees, use solitary confinement to manage detainees and to punish them for violating facility rules. ICE classifies solitary as administrative (to protect detainees or maintain ‘good order’) and disciplinary segregation (to punish for serious offenses),” Sarah Dávila-Ruhaak previously wrote on crimmigration.com. The agency’s 2013 directive on segregation, still in force, describes segregation as “a serious step that requires careful consideration of alternatives.”
Despite that, the government’s records suggest segregation is a regular feature of life inside the Eloy prison. During the 17 months covered, someone was placed into segregation on average every 10 days. Because the government records don’t include names, it’s possible, though unlikely, that the fifty instances of segregation involve fewer than fifty people. Thirty-nine instances involved men. Mexicans were the most common group, including 7 Mexican women and 14 instances involving Mexican men.
Most people were left in segregation for a few weeks, but 8 spent more than one month isolated from the rest of the prison population. The longest period of segregated confinement during this 17-month stretch was experienced by a Mexican man identified as evidencing signs of mental illness who asked to speak with an ICE officer. When told that none was available, he began throwing items, including a microwave and television. For this, he was placed in segregation on Halloween of 2017 and released on Valentine’s Day of 2018, a period of 106 days.
Another Mexican man was segregated from September 23, 2017 to December 6, 2017—74 days—“per his request” after he “told staff that he was in fear for his safety.” A mentally ill Filipino male who “refus[ed] to transfer to La Palma [C]orrection Center,” another CoreCivic facility in Eloy, was placed in segregation on November 16, 2018 and released on January 29, 2019, also 74 days.
Roughly one-third of segregation placements (18 of 50) involved mentally ill individuals. Of these, two involved people with “serious mental illness.” Though ICE’s policy requires limited use of administrative segregation to deal with people who have a special vulnerability, including those with mental illness, the government logs show that on-the-ground practices frequently circumvent that restriction. Of the 18 instances in which mentally ill individuals were segregated, only five were motivated for concern about the individual. The rest were cataloged as disciplinary placements justified by concern about the safety of others inside the prison. Separately, six instances of segregation involved individuals with “serious medical illness.”
For reasons that aren’t clear from the records, over half of the 50 segregation placements were at the start of this 17-month period. From September to December 2017, fully 35 segregation placements occurred.
Similar FOIA requests to other facilities are pending.