Hudson County detainees had 23.5-hour daily lockdowns, no soap in isolation, report says

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The Hudson County Correctional Facility in Kearny allegedly initiated 23-and-a-half hour lockdowns, with no soap, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, or mattresses available for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees during the pandemic, a report says.

Photo via hudsoncountynnj.org.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

“They put us in cells with one other person out of fear that we would infect each other. We were kept there for 23.5 hours a day,” a 36-year-old detainee in Kearny, one of 50 across the country interviewed by the Physicians for Human Rights, said over the phone.

PHR had their research team conduct  interviews between July 13th and October 3rd of last year following outreach to immigration attorneys that had clients being held in ICE detention facilities nationwide.

To that end, a 31-year-old man also detained in Kearny mentioned “spending 12 hours with no soap, no hand sanitizer, no toilet paper … not even a mattress pad to sleep on,” according to the PHR analysis.

The study sough to document “physical and psychological abuse and inadequate medical care” at 22 different facilities that housed ICE detainees in 12 different states, the executive summary of the report says.

Furthermore, PHR is calling for the release of all 16,037 detainees throughout the country – the most recent figure they have compiled as of January 4th.

” … ICE should use its discretionary authority to release all people from immigration detention and allow them to safely shelter in place in non-custodial settings, unless there is a substantiated individualized determination that the person represents a public security risk.”

Expectedly, Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly categorically denied the allegations made in the report.

“Medical lockdowns that limit out of cell time were employed only during significant spikes in cases within the facility during the peak of the first viral wave (March to May). These lockdowns never lasted more than 14 days,” he said in an email.

Kennelly continued that there hadn’t been a medical lockdown for months until over three dozen inmates were infected with the coronavirus, beginning around Christmas, pointing out that no detainees tested positive during this outbreak.

“At no time were detainees without soap or toilet paper while in our medical isolation unit. Hand sanitizer is not distributed individually because it has an alcohol base. It is employed via dispensers within the facility including that unit,” he added.

Interviews, which focused on COVID-19 education and testing, as well as hygiene, sanitation, and testing, lasted for one to two hours and a $40 electronic gift card was offered to participants.

Additionally, the Harvard Medical School Institutional Review Board and Physicians for Human Rights’ Ethical Review Board reviewed the study before it was published yesterday.

The group Abolish ICE NY-NJ said on January 4th that 55 detainees were participating in a hunger strike in hopes of being released, though they said on Monday that most of the strikers had suspended their protest due to retaliation.

Kennelly has maintained that there was never a hunger strike at the jail and contested the claim by activists that 40 detainees had been transferred to Orange County, New York, claiming that it was actually only three.

While still known as freeholders, the county’s nine-person board of elected officials voted at their November 24th meeting to renew their contract with ICE for up to the next decade, receiving $120 per day, per detainee.

This led to extended public comment periods at subsequent sessions, though that may soon be a thing of the past as the county commissioners are set to vote on a measure that would reduce public portion to three minutes per person and two hours overall.

On Thursday morning, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations New York Deputy Field Office Director William P. Joyce said the allegations in the report are “anonymous” and “unproven” and therefore should not be regarded as absolute truth.

“Generally speaking, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve. Any suggestion that any person in ICE custody is denied necessary medical treatment is false,” he said in a statement.

“As made evident by the $315 million the agency spent last year on the spectrum of healthcare services for those in its care, ICE is committed to the health and welfare of all individuals in its custody.”

 

Editor’s note: This story was updated with a comment from Enforcement and Removal Operations New York Deputy Field Office Director William P. Joyce.

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