US Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not adequately monitor and track its use of solitary confinement inside immigration detention facilities across the country, according to a watchdog review of the agency’s standards.
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that the immigration agency lacks effective oversight and clear policies to ensure accurate and comprehensive tracking and reporting on the use of solitary confinement, known as segregation.
From fiscal year 2015 through 2019, the DHS watchdog hotline received 1,200 allegations related to concerns about solitary confinement, including issues such as detainees not knowing why they had been segregated and detainees being threatened with segregation.
The agency also suffered from issues with record retention, according to the review, which covered the five-year period.
These deficiencies mean that ICE doesn’t have a complete picture when it comes to the use of solitary confinement, a policy that has long caused concern among immigration advocates and some lawmakers, particularly when it comes to its use for detainees with mental health issues.
ICE uses segregation both for punitive and administrative purposes, meaning that detainees can end up in solitary confinement when they need protection from others, when they present a threat to others and for medical reasons.
More than half of all solitary confinement cases were for administrative reasons during the five-year time frame, according to data that ICE recorded.
The agency recorded 13,784 segregation placements during that time, 7,917 of which were categorized as administrative and 5,867 as disciplinary, the watchdog reported.
The issue of solitary confinement rose to the forefront during the Trump administration after a whistleblower came forward with allegations of abuse in the system and a consortium of news outlets reported on years of documentation related to solitary confinement cases.
In 2018, as part of a series on immigration, CNN reported on the case of Jeancarlo Alfonso Jimenez Joseph, a 27-year-old who died by suicide at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia after being locked inside his cell for more than two weeks – a case that generated headlines around the globe.
Records from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on Jimenez’s death revealed key details about events preceding his death and raised larger questions about the quality of medical and mental health care the tens of thousands of people in ICE custody receive.
Several previous DHS inspector general inspections have detailed violations of ICE detention standards for segregation, including detainees held in administrative segregation for extended periods without proper documentation or reviews. In a 2020 inspection, the watchdog uncovered that two detainees had been held in isolation for more than 300 days.
In the latest report, the inspector general notes that numerous studies have found that any time spent in segregation can be detrimental to a person’s health and that individuals in solitary confinement may experience negative psychological and physical effects even after being released.
“Without adequate oversight, clear policies, and comprehensive data, ICE does not know the full extent of detention facilities’ use of segregation, which hinders its ability to ensure compliance with policy, and prevent and detect potential misuse of segregation,” the IG report reads.
For instance, the watchdog could not always determine whether ICE considered alternatives to segregation, which agency policy requires.
Additionally, ICE did not always comply with its own reporting requirements. For example, a detainee’s placement was not recorded in the agency’s system until 88 days into a 250-day segregation, in violation of policy.
Reporting delays could impact ICE’s ability to prevent misuse and prolonged isolation, the watchdog said.
DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari issued three recommendations: updating policy and guidance, requiring all detention facilities to collect and track standardized information, and ensuring compliance with record retention schedules.
The agency agreed with all three recommendations and is taking steps to implement the proposed changes, according to ICE spokesperson Dani Bennett.
“ICE remains committed to ensuring the appropriate use of segregation for its detainees, including thorough robust review and oversight of facility segregation practices,” ICE Chief Financial Officer Stephen Roncone wrote in response to the inspector general report.
The agency also remains committed to “continually enhancing” civil detention operations, he added.
This story has been updated with additional comment from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.