ICE’s oversight is as cold as its name and appallingly lacking.
The handling of food at the Newark jail was particularly disgusting.
A Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report said an unannounced inspection “identified a host of food safety problems that could endanger the health of detainees.”
• “mishandling of meats and storage of moldy bread” potentially contaminating food
• “meat, which was raw, spoiled, or expired”
• “open packages of raw chicken leaking blood all over refrigeration units”
• “slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat”
• “hamburgers that were foul smelling and unrecognizable.”
Despite the potential for “salmonella, listeria, and E. coli, leading to serious foodborne illness, we observed facility staff serving this potentially spoiled meat to detainees,” the inspectors reported after their surprise visit in July.
The review found other problems, including “showers laced with mold,” “dilapidated beds” and water dripping from ceilings onto two detainee beds.
Serious troubles have been discovered at other ICE detention facilities. Consider these findings in inspector general reports from December 2017 to September 2018:
• Inspections at five detention facilities “identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment."
• At Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., “we observed slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat that appeared to be spoiled.”
• At an ICE processing center in California, “nooses made from braided bed sheets present ongoing safety and security risks … ICE has not taken seriously the recurring problem of detainees hanging bedsheet nooses at the Adelanto Center,” where medical care is “delayed and inadequate" and "dental providers do not provide basic dental care.”
John V. Kelly, the top inspector general official, told the Federal Insider that “our inspections have identified a range of challenges that undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment. These challenges heighten the importance of our unannounced inspections of detention facilities to ensure ICE meets its own standards.”
While the Essex facility reflects dangerous problems around the country, it is a repeat offender, to the point that the inspector general questions if it should continue as an ICE jail.
“This marks the fourth time in less than a year that the facility failed to notify ICE of incidents involving detainees and raises serious concerns about the facility’s ability to handle security issues,” the report said.
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) blamed the conditions on “a direct result of ICE prioritizing maintaining bedspace above general health and safety … ICE too often seems to turn a blind eye to detention facility deficiencies, rarely using enforcement mechanisms or requiring corrective action to ensure its own standards are followed. If facilities are unable to meet ICE’s standards to ensure proper living conditions, ICE should reconsider remaining in agreements with these facilities.”
His Republican counterpart in the Senate, Chairman Ron Johnson (Wis.), did not respond to requests for comment.
Although he said nothing, Johnson too should be disgusted at the disregard for the safety of Essex inmates. It was blatant.
A kitchen sign tells staff there is “NO THROWING OUT ANY BREAD.”
Kitchen workers place old bread in trash bags and cans “to be used for making bread pudding once every 2-3 weeks,” the report said.
It’s no surprise that detainees complain of diarrhea and vomiting — symptoms of food poisoning.
The inmates filed about 200 food-related complaints from January through June last year. One quoted comment in the report said: “For dinner, we were served meatballs that smell like fecal matter. The food was rotten.” Another complained: “The food that we received has been complete garbage, it’s becoming impossible to eat it. It gets worse every day. It literally looks like it came from the garbage dumpster; I have a stomach infection because of it and the nurse herself told me it was caused by the food.”
Don’t just take the inmates’ word for it. Here is what the federal inspectors said: “Although ICE standards require the protection of detainees from illness through adequate food service, the Essex Facility has risked the spread of foodborne illness by knowingly serving detainees potentially contaminated meat and bread. As a result, ICE must more closely scrutinize and oversee the facility’s management.”
Perhaps the wrong people are behind bars.
Despite the findings, Essex County Correctional Facility Director Al Ortiz said, “We are proud of our proactive approach to meet the needs of our detainees and the high standards of care that we have set for our facility.” He praised the facility’s compliance ratings, accreditation and “commitment to providing the highest level of care.”
ICE and the jail operators have taken steps to meet the inspector general’s recommendations. The food service manager was fired immediately. But why did it take a spot inspection for officials to act?
A statement said food storage practices were updated, “all ICE detainee housing units were emptied and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected using steam pressure-washers,” and “the facility was given another Contract Discrepancy Report for the poor facility conditions.”
Another bad report card for repeated harmful conditions? This is the fourth bad report card in a year. When does a jail fail enough for it to be expelled by ICE for good?