New Jersey

Conditions at Three New Jersey Immigration Detention Centers Are ‘Harsh and Inhumane,' Report Says

Researchers report maggots in food and lack of medical services, among other findings

What to Know

  • Detainees at 3 immigration detention centers in NJ are subject to “harsh and inhumane conditions,” says a human rights organization
  • Human Rights First visited Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, Essex County Correctional Facility and Hudson County Correctional Facility
  • The report says inadequacies when it comes to food, hygiene and health — among other criteria — were found

Detainees at three immigration detention centers in New Jersey are subject to “harsh and inhumane conditions,” including being denied medical care and being served food with worms and maggots, according to a report released by a human rights organization.

A team of researchers, as well as legal and health professionals assisted in Human Rights First’s report “Ailing Justice: New Jersey Inadequate Medical and Mental Health Care Services in Immigration Detention.”

In February, researchers for Human Rights First visited the three main facilities in New Jersey that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses to detain non-citizens: Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, the Essex County Correctional Facility and the Hudson County Correctional Facility.

More than 100 immigrants detained in these centers participated in interviews and shared personal accounts of their time at the centers.

The report says inadequacies when it comes to food, hygiene and health  — among other criteria — were found.

The Ailing Justice report says “many asylum seekers and immigrants remain in unnecessary, lengthy and prolonged detention,” at times for over a year, because of a lack of access to viable release mechanisms, like parole.

According to the report, some of the asylum seekers detained, who entered the United States at an airport or other port of entry, are not provided access to an immigration court custody hearing, which leaves ICE as “their judge and jailor.”

The researchers found that ICE has failed to follow its own parole directive that says that the asylum seekers must have a credible fear of persecution or torture and not present a security or flight risk.

The report also says that some detainees are being housed under "criminal correctional standards." Though the facilities in the report house immigration detainees, the Essex and Hudson buildings are county jails that rent bed space to ICE.

The report notes that even though “ICE is holding civil immigration detainees in custody, its detention standards are based on criminal correctional standards,” including the use of color-coded prison uniforms and housing detainees in cells instead of dorms. These standards have received criticism in criminal justice system reform efforts and by the American Bar Association, according to Human Rights First, and are seen as “inappropriate for civil immigration detainees.”

Researchers also found that there was no availability to a “meaningful outdoor space” at the Elizabeth and Essex facilities and that in the Elizabeth facility, toilets are separated by three-foot tall wall barriers that allow others to see individuals using the bathroom.

Unhygienic and unsanitary conditions were also reported. Almost all detainees at the Elizabeth facility said that a lack of ventilation for years has resulted in dust buildup. Detainees who work in the kitchen at the Hudson facility also said that food trays, carts and dishes are left unwashed and when they are cleaned, dirty water is used.

The report also says that the three facilities have provided insufficient or damaged clothing and hygiene products to detainees. Women in the Elizabeth facility have complained that they receive two to three pairs of underwear a week. In addition, women in the Elizabeth and the Hudson facility have also complained that they do not receive sufficient sanitary pads, which forces them to purchase them at the commissary for high prices, the report says.

Several people at the Elizabeth facility have said they found worms and maggots in the shower area. According to the report, an individual who reported these conditions was placed in disciplinary segregation.

A detainee also found maggots and worms in the food he received, the report says.

Researchers also found that food in all facilities were often times spoiled, raw or expired.

Numerous individuals also reported instances of racism, discrimination and harassment from detention facility officers.

All three facilities also failed to provide adequate medical health care, the report says. Researchers found that there was inadequate health screenings at intake, denial of medical and dental care, delays in receiving treatment and medication, lack of privacy and language access concerns.

According to the report, an ICE officer at one of the facilities said the decision to provide medical care is a “cost-benefit analysis.”

Detainees in Elizabeth and Essex also have insufficient mental health care services. According to the report, suicide watch measures were found to be “inadequate and may heighten risks.”

In a statement provided to NBC 4, Emilio Dabul, spokesperson for the ICE office in Newark, said, “While the agency has not had an opportunity to review the report, ICE remains committed to ensuring that all individuals in our custody are held and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner and that they have access to legal counsel, visitation, recreation and quality medical, mental health and dental care.”

The Humans Rights First report includes recommendations to alleviate the issues found in the facilities, including having ICE implement an Independent Medical Oversight Board, adopt civil detention standards for detainees housed in jails so they do not have to live in penal conditions, as well as fund legal representation and improve access to council and communications.

Human Rights First also recommends that the facilities ensure “fair and consistent release processes."

It also recommends providing accessible bonds to immigrants and asylum seekers.However, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that certain immigrants in detention can be held indefinitely without periodic bond hearings.

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