According to a report in the New York Times on newly released federal data, roughly 300 immigrants are currently being held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest facilities throughout the United States immigration detention system — the largest such system of any in the world. Many of these detainees are being held on civil as opposed to criminal charges, and thus are “not supposed to be punished; they are simply confined to ensure that they appear for administrative hearings.”
On any given day, about 300 immigrants are held in solitary confinement at the 50 largest detention facilities that make up the sprawling patchwork of holding centers nationwide overseen by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, according to new federal data.
Nearly half are isolated for 15 days or more, the point at which psychiatric experts say they are at risk for severe mental harm, with about 35 detainees kept for more than 75 days.
While the records do not indicate why immigrants were put in solitary, an adviser who helped the immigration agency review the numbers estimated that two-thirds of the cases involved disciplinary infractions like breaking rules, talking back to guards or getting into fights. Immigrants were also regularly isolated because they were viewed as a threat to other detainees or personnel or for protective purposes when the immigrant was gay or mentally ill.
Of those immigrants being held in solitary confinement, 11 percent where mentally ill, 46 percent were held for 15 days or more, 21 percent were held 45 days or more, and 11 percent were held 75 days or more.
Solitary confinement generally involves holding prisoners for 23 hours a day in a small, windowless cell with a steel door. The one allowed hour of recreation usually takes place in similarly small enclosures that are indoors or lined with fencing — “similar to an indoor dog kennel,” as the Times put it. Access to phones, lawyers, outside communication, or even showers is often strictly limited. Solitary confinement is widely considered a psychologically damaging and dangerous form of confinement, and earlier this year the Federal Bureau of Prisons announced it will be carrying out a study of the practice. One federal court has already determined that solitary confinement of the mentally ill, at least, amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.
The overall population of immigrants in detention has exploded by 85 percent since 2005, and now stands at roughly 400,000. At the same time, there are more than 80,000 people in solitary confinement throughout then United States at a given moment — again, the largest number of any country in the world.