Report Catalogs Rampant Brutalization Of Inmates At Adelanto Prison

Inmates at the Adelanto Detention Center, in particular ones with both mental and physical disabilities, are being subjected to abusive and inhumane conditions and treatment, according to a just-released report by the Disability Rights Center of California.
The report confirms in separate detail the findings of other studies and reports relating to the Adelanto Detention Facility.
The Adelanto Detention Center is the largest of the holding facilities maintained under the auspices of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security in California and one of the largest in the country, with an average detainee population of almost 2,000 people.
The facility is owned and operated by a private contractor, the GEO Group, Inc., pursuant to an intergovernmental service agreement between the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division and the City of Adelanto.
According to the Disability Rights Center of California, “Recent government policy changes regarding immigration enforcement priorities has made a significant increase in the detention of people with disabilities all but certain. Most notable is the January 2017 presidential order that terminated the exercise of ‘prosecutorial discretion’ for people with disabilities and other special populations. There has also been a dramatic rise in the detention of asylum seekers, who often carry with them experiences of trauma and have significant mental health needs.”
In a 64-page report “There Is No Safety Here” prepared for the Disability Rights Center of California by Aaron J. Fischer, litigation counsel; Pilar Gonzalez, supervising attorney; Richard Diaz, staff attorney; and Disability Rights Center subject matter experts Altaf Saadi, M.D., M.S.H.S. and Erica Lubliner, M.D., it is stated, “People held at Adelanto are subjected to punitive, prison-like conditions that harm people with disabilities. Adelanto is infused with unnecessarily harsh – and in effect, punitive – conditions, raising questions as to whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO Group are violating the constitutional rights of the people held there as civil detainees. Adelanto looks, feels and operates like a prison, from the extreme idleness and regimented daily schedule to the use of solitary confinement-type housing. In fact, the east side of the facility was constructed to be and was operated as a prison for many years. Immigration Customs Enforcement is underutilizing feasible alternatives to detention for people who can be effectively supervised in the community. The facility’s prison-like conditions disproportionately harm people with mental illness and other disabilities.”
The report continues, “Adelanto has an inadequate mental health care and medical care system, made worse by the facility’s counter-therapeutic conditions and practices. We identified many people with serious mental health needs who have suffered in detention. They receive inadequate clinical contacts and ineffective, non-individualized treatment. GEO Group fails to provide structured mental health programming to meet Adelanto detainees’ clinical treatment needs. GEO Group also restricts people’s ability to engage in self-directed activities, including something as simple as reading books that help them cope in detention. Men and women at the facility are further harmed by the facility’s harsh and non-therapeutic institutional responses to people in psychiatric crisis. When people are in crisis, they are met with pepper spray and extreme isolation. We also found several examples of deficient medication management practices that are dangerous and harmful. Overall, conditions at Adelanto are antithetical to the therapeutic, trauma-informed approach to treatment that is recommended by mental health professionals and that many people at the facility need. We found that GEO Group operates administrative and disciplinary segregation units that are extremely restrictive and in some cases reflect solitary confinement-type conditions. These segregation units put people with mental health disabilities at substantial risk of psychological and even physical harm. We found people who had suffered greatly in these units, and even attempted suicide. The specter of being placed in solitary confinement hangs over all Adelanto detainees. More than 50 offenses can result in a detainee’s placement in solitary confinement, including minor infractions like ‘refusal to clean assigned living area,’ ‘refusing to obey a staff member officer’s order,’ ‘being in an unauthorized area,’ or ‘failure to stand [during] count.'”
In an effort to hang onto its contract and minimize problems at the Adelanto facility and avoid scrutiny, thus reducing chances of corrective action, the GEO Group has hidden what is going on at the Adelanto Detention Center, according to the report.
“GEO Group significantly underreports data on the number of suicide attempts that occur at Adelanto, according to Fischer, Gonzalez, Diaz, Saadi and Lubliner. “The frequency with which detainees engage in self-harm or attempt suicide at the facility demands attention. However, we found that GEO Group’s reporting practices result in significant underreporting of this information. For example, GEO Group’s data, as reported to the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, show zero suicide attempts at the facility for the first ten months of 2018. Our investigation showed this to be demonstrably false.”
Whether those in the Adelanto Detention Center can be considered criminal inmates is a matter of definition. While some, many or perhaps all are technically in violation of United States immigration law, at least some have legitimate political asylum claims. The number of asylum seekers at Adelanto is substantial. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as of March 2018, there were 445 detainees who were seeking asylum, or 27 percent of the facility’s population. More than 50 percent of the women held at the facility were seeking asylum.
Two such prisoners seeking asylum were a man and wife, identified in the report only as Sofia and Aleksei.
According to the report, “Sofia sought asylum in the United States due to persecution she faced in Russia. She and her husband, Aleksei, were both detained at the Adelanto Detention Center starting in 2017. During our first interview, Sofia spoke in a whisper as she described her experiences in detention. A thick bandage covered her wrist. She had recently been hospitalized following an attempted suicide by cutting herself. Sofia explained how visits with her husband were rare and how requests to send him a letter or speak with him on the phone were denied. In addition to the distress caused by not being able to communicate with her husband, Sofia described feeling anxious and depressed based on her living conditions and lack of medical treatment at Adelanto. When she experienced intense headaches, her requests for medical care went unanswered. Other requests for small sources of comfort, such as a book in Russian or a sweater, were also denied. She requested to see mental health staff but found that ‘they make me feel worse.’ She explained: ‘Their advice or therapy are not suitable for my case . . . they tell us to exercise or breathe.’ Sofia, like her fellow detainees, has very limited and inconsistent access to outdoor recreation time, making it difficult to exercise regularly. Clinical staff also directed Sofia to use ‘religious coping’ even though she is not religious. A review of her medical records reveals that mental health staff persisted with these ill-fitting recommendations even as Sofia reported worsening mental health, had suicidal thoughts, and finally reached the point of wanting to kill herself. Approximately four-and-a-half months into her detention, Sofia attempted suicide. She had no history of suicidal thoughts or self-harm prior to her detention at Adelanto. She recalled: ‘I was tired of being here, of being detained. It was just too stressful.’”
According to the report, “Aleksei was apprehended by immigration agents along with his wife. He has diagnoses of pancreatitis and gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition that causes intense abdominal and chest pain. His medications were discontinued when he arrived at Adelanto. Within a few weeks, his pain had become so severe that he could not walk or stand. Staff provided him ibuprofen repeatedly, which according to the Disability Rights Center experts is inappropriate for a patient with his condition and could lead to dangerous internal bleeding. After more than a year in detention with worsening symptoms, including symptoms of internal bleeding, Aleksei still had not received clinically indicated follow-up, such as an endoscopy ordered by medical staff. Records show that Aleksei had filed repeated grievances, and that the facility’s responses were inadequate. Aleksei described how he and other detainees felt that staff ‘treat us like animals.’ They were summarily punished for minor violations of facility rules. On one occasion, facility staff forced his entire housing unit to get up in the early hours of the morning and stand outside in the cold because some detainees had complained about one officer’s behavior towards them. Many of the men had no shoes and wore only underwear. After being unable to receive updates on his immigration case, Aleksei’s distress became unbearable and he began a hunger strike. He was placed in a suicide watch cell for two days. Aleksei recalled his time there as ‘torture. I could not sleep. They keep the lights on at all times. I had no water or food, no clothing.’ Aleksei’s trauma in the suicide watch cell lingered, and his depression worsened. He attempted suicide by lacerating a vein in his arm. The razor was too dull to inflict fatal harm, but he was again placed in the suicide watch cell. Aleksei recalls being so distraught that he yelled for someone to end his life. He was allowed no time outside the cell, no contact with his wife, and no clothes other than a heavy, tear-proof smock. After four days in the suicide watch cell, health care staff told him that the only way he would be released is if he said he was OK. So he did. After this second experience in the suicide watch cell, Aleksei withdrew from Adelanto’s mental health staff. He explained, as his hands visibly shook, ‘I am afraid of being sent back to the suicide room. I do not tell the doctor how I feel. I say everything is fine because I don’t want to go back . . . but I can’t sleep, there’s nightmares and I shake. I do not want to do anything but lay in bed.’”
According to the report’s authors, “We witnessed one incident firsthand that illustrated GEO Group’s punitive and counter-therapeutic response to a detainee’s psychiatric crisis. The detainee was being discharged from suicide watch when he suddenly ran down the hallway, an act that clinical staff described to us as related to his still unstable mental health condition. Notwithstanding this assessment, custody staff treated the incident as an ‘attempted escape’ and immediately placed the detainee in disciplinary segregation. Things got worse in the segregation unit. The man started banging his head against the wall and kicking his legs at custody staff who tried to restrain him. After some time, clinical staff directed that he be taken to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. A clinician who had evaluated this man told us that disciplinary segregation was not an appropriate placement for him.”
According to Fischer, Gonzalez, Diaz, Saadi and Lubliner, “Conditions at Adelanto pose serious risks to people with mental illness and other disabilities. The situation demands action. Access to treatment and disability-related accommodations must improve, and steps to reduce unnecessarily punitive conditions at the facility must be a top priority. At the same time, given the extraordinary risks and the harms to people with mental illness and disabilities detained at Adelanto, it is essential to ask: ‘Is it necessary to imprison this population? Are there less restrictive and less damaging alternatives that better serve the country’s constitutional freedoms and commitment to the rights, safety, and dignity of all?’”
The Disability Rights Center of California report does not exist in a vacuum. Questions regarding and criticism of the conditions imposed on detainees at the Adelanto Detention Center have been raised elsewhere. In February, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a report that found immigrant detainees – people who typically are held for civil, not criminal actions – are treated like prisoners, kept in their cells up to 22 hours a day, and offered inadequate access to medical care and legal counsel in multiple California facilities that hold migrant detainees.
-Mark Gutglueck

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