Center on Sentencing and Corrections

ISOLATED: ICE Confines Some Detainees with Mental Illness in Solitary for Months

ISOLATED: ICE Confines Some Detainees with Mental Illness in Solitary for Months

Nick Schwellenbach, Mia Steinle, Katherine Hawkins, Andrea Paterson. “ISOLATED: ICE Confines Some Detainees with Mental Illness in Solitary for Months.” Project On Government Oversight, August 14, 2019.

As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detains more immigrants, detention centers report sending more and more detainees to solitary confinement, according to federal records obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO)—a Washington, DC-based independent watchdog. In solitary, detainees are locked in a cell and isolated from other people for up to 23 hours a day.

POGO analyzed 6,559 records of solitary confinement in immigrant detention centers from January 2016 through May of 2018. These records build upon reporting on ICE’s use of solitary by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and partner news organizations published earlier this year. The records POGO obtained are the first to cover a significant portion of the current Administration. About 40 percent of the placements in solitary were of detainees with a mental illness. At some detention centers, the percentage is much higher. Slightly more than 4,000 of the 6,559 records show detainees who were kept in solitary for more than 15 days—prolonged solitary confinement identified by many experts as tantamount to torture under certain conditions. One-quarter of those roughly 4,000 records indicate the detainees in solitary had a mental illness. Viewed alongside official watchdog reports and insider accounts, these records depict an immigration detention system in urgent need of more oversight.

The report examines the collection of records and the increasing use of solitary confinement in detention centers as well as provides recommendations for ICE oversight.

Click here to view the online report.

Keywords: immigration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Bureau of Prisons (BOP), private prisons, mentally ill, serious mental illness, mental disorder