Published in partnership with Shadowproof.
Georgia immigrant detention centers frequently put asylum seekers and other migrants into solitary confinement as punishment for going on hunger strike.
In a report [PDF] produced by Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, human rights abuses at Stewart Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Center are examined.
Twenty-four year-old Somali asylum seeker Sadam Hussein Ali describes how he was punished in 2016 at the Stewart Detention Center.
“The staff put me in segregation for several days because I participated in the hunger strike that happened around Thanksgiving. They also fired me from my kitchen job for participating in the strike,” Ali said.
“About twenty other Somali detainees were put in segregation. In segregation, I couldn’t see outside. I lost track of whether it was day or night. I had to request to use the bathroom every time; then I was chained, and then a guard would walk me to the bathroom in chains. I participated in the hunger strike because we have been detained for far too long. The nurses actually threatened to force-feed all of us on the hunger strike.”
The report argues the “use of segregation as a form of punishment for engaging in a peaceful protest violates basic human rights. By the same token, force-feeding or the threat to force-feed is also a violation of basic human rights and international law.”
On April 17, 2016, Alaa Yasin, a detained immigrant from Palestine, launched a hunger strike to protest his detention. He argued his detention was unlawful because his “removal was not reasonably foreseeable” and so it violated Supreme Court precedent.
ICE informed Yasin he would be held in solitary confinement. It also unsuccessfully attempted to obtain a court order to force-feed him.
One detained immigrant at Stewart who suffers from mental illness said, “Segregation is like hell. It is total isolation.”
Stewart also places asylum seekers or migrants in solitary confinement if they are suffering from mental illness.
“There is no mental health service,” one Somali immigrant said. “There is no therapy. They only put people in segregation when someone is ‘mentally ill.’”
Those in solitary are not permitted to shower. They do not have access to the commissary. They must choose between using the phone or getting an hour of recreation time.
Solitary confinement units do not have a bathroom. Detained immigrants have to request that staff escort them to the bathroom. They are handcuffed and taken to the bathroom in chains if staff grant their request.
Several of the detained immigrants interviewed for the report said they were in solitary for “at least a few days to a week.” In some cases, detained immigrants were in solitary for three to six months.
Irwin not only is willing to punish individuals on hunger strike by sending them to solitary confinement but will also use solitary as discipline for what staff arbitrarily deems to be misconduct.
“I have been placed in segregation at Irwin four times for approximately one month each time,” a male immigrant from Cameroon shared.
First, for helping a fellow detainee translate a letter to English. Second, because they said I tampered with a computer, but I didn’t tamper with it. Third, because they tried to transfer me to [Atlanta City Detention Center] but they could not accommodate my diet, so they transferred me back. Fourth, because I was supposedly in“possession of contraband” but really I just kicked a piece of paper to try to get it out of the way and was sent to segregation. Irwin does not distinguish between administrative and disciplinary segregation like they are supposed to. While in segregation, you must choose between using the phone and having your hour of recreation.>
Irwin puts many asylum seekers or immigrants in solitary when they first arrive. They are told the facility is making space for them in general population, and some may wait up to a week before they are transferred out.
Conditions which drive individuals to protest include the water at Stewart, which is described as “green, non-potable, smelling of feces.”
Some detained immigrants boil water in their cells before they drink it. Individuals reported getting rashes from the showers. A male detained immigrant from Mexico said, “The shower water is green and anytime I drink any water, I get headaches. I’ve lost about twenty pounds since I’ve been here.” Similarly, another man from Ecuador reported, “For one week the water was brown with black specks.”
At Irwin, as one Mexican immigrant detailed, clothes come back from the laundry with a black liquid that will not come out. A female Honduras immigrant said the water in showers is too hot and causes hair to fall out of one’s head.
A Nigerian immigrant reported how he was put in solitary confinement after requesting medical treatment for a serious ailment.
“I had lumps in my chest and blood had begun discharging from my breast,” the individual shared. “When I requested medical care, sometimes no one would reply. I was not given medical care until ICE later approved it. When I reached out for medical help, I was placed in solitary confinement.”
Stewart is operated by CoreCivic, the private contractor formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
The authors of the report believe Stewart and Irwin should be shut down and the management of the facilities should be held accountable for abuses that occur regularly.
Read Project South’s Imprisoned Justice below: