back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

16 September 2020 – United States

An aerial view of Irwin County Detention Centre, Georgia (Google Maps)
An aerial view of Irwin County Detention Centre, Georgia (Google Maps)

In a complaint submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General, a nurse previously employed at the Irwin County Detention Centre in the state of Georgia alleges that the women detainees at the privately-operated centre have suffered severe abuses and “jarring medical neglect” throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. According the nurse, Dawn Wooten, officials at the centre, a criminal prison facility that also has immigration detention operations and is run by LaSalle Corrections, have underreported Covid-19 cases, refused to test symptomatic detainees, failed to enforce CDC social-distancing measures, neglected medical complaints, and failed to protect staff by not informing them who has contracted the virus or providing them with appropriate protective equipment. The nurse also states that she became worried about the seemingly high number of hysterectomies being performed on the women, who all spoke Spanish only and did not appear to understand why the procedure had been performed. After she complained to senior leadership regarding the conditions, Wooten states that she was demoted from working full-time, to just a few hours a month.

The complaint was filed on behalf of a group of detainees as well as Wooten by a group of civil society organisations, including Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. One detainee is quoted as saying: “When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they’re experimenting with our bodies.” According to the complaint, detainees have recounted undergoing the surgery without proper warning or understanding of what was happening to them. “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor and they’ve had hysterectomies and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going,” said Wooten.

Other facilities run by LaSalle have also been the focus of complaints during the pandemic. Staff at the Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana submitted a letter to Congress detailing complaints, including the centre management’s withholding of PPE for both detainees and staff. One officer also reported having to blast immigration detainees with an air conditioner to bring their temperatures down, so as to enable them to be deported (ICE policy requires that if a detainee’s temperature is above 99 degrees, they cannot be deported). In an email in response to these allegations, a LaSalle executive stated, “We want to acknowledge and highlight the tremendous work that staff are doing each and every day to protect the health and safety of the men and women in our care. … Very disappointing that anonymous sources would attempt to distort these hero’s [sic] efforts through false and misleading allegations.”