New Report Documents Physical, Mental Health Care Deficiencies in New Jersey Detention Facilities
New York City—Human Rights First today released a new report on immigration detention in New Jersey that analyzes the mental, physical, and legal impacts of detention on immigrants and asylum seekers. The report follows trips made by Human Rights First researchers along with a team of legal and health professionals to the three principal facilities that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) uses to detain individuals in New Jersey: Elizabeth Contract Detention Facility, the Essex County Correctional Facility, and the Hudson County Correctional Facility.
“The prolonged detention of asylum seekers is extremely harmful, both to their legal cases and overall wellbeing. As we saw in our visits to detention centers in New Jersey, detention makes it more difficult for individuals to access counsel and critical medical and mental health services,” said Human Rights First’s Eleni Bakst, the primary researcher for today’s report. “In New Jersey, ICE has essentially stopped granting parole to asylum seekers, with a few exceptions, leading to unnecessary, lengthy, and prolonged detention. This, coupled with inadequate and delayed medical and mental health care and often inhumane conditions, exacerbates the suffering of traumatized individuals, many of whom faced violence or persecution in their home countries.”
One such individual is “Alexander,” a U.S. veteran diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his military service. He reported this condition during his intake at the facility, yet was denied access to the medications he previously received to manage his PTSD. Since entering detention, his PTSD symptoms have worsened, and he reports experiencing flashbacks due to the loud noises, yelling, and violence shown on television.
“From previous evaluations of detainees and my recent visit to Hudson County Correctional Facility it is becoming more apparent that there are systemic failures in providing adequate healthcare for acute and chronic medical and mental health conditions,” said Dr. Joseph Shin, an academic physician and member of the Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network. “There is a growing list of detainee and inmate deaths, and cases of serious medical harm experienced by individuals held in these facilities. We may be seeing just the tip of the iceberg of a health crisis in these facilities, but without greater transparency, accountability and reform, I fear we will only hear about more cases of inadequate care, harm, and even more deaths.”
Based on these visits to the New Jersey detention centers, the opinions of the legal and health professionals who joined the visits, in-depth research, and Human Rights First’s experience providing pro bono legal representation to asylum seekers detained in New Jersey, Human Rights First found the following:
- Many asylum seekers and immigrants remain in unnecessary, lengthy, and prolonged detention—some for over a year—due to a lack of access to viable release mechanisms, including parole. Detention harms their medical and mental health, creates barriers to access to counsel, and hurts their chances of securing relief from deportation.
- Asylum seekers and other immigrants languish under harsh and inhumane conditions, conditions essentially identical to those in many criminal correctional facilities. Many detained immigrants, particularly non-English speakers, endure frequent racist comments, harassment, and discrimination from medical and correctional staff.
- Many detained people report substandard or denial of medical care, long waits to be seen by a medical professional, and a lack of proper medication.
- Despite widespread interest in—and need for—mental health services, including supportive psychotherapy, insufficient availability at two of the facilities and fear of punitive treatment force many detained people to cope on their own. Additionally, even when mental health services are provided, they are often inadequate to address the serious mental health problems of some detained immigrants.
- The suicide watch program at the Hudson County Correctional Facility, despite recent reform, may actually discourage people from seeking mental health care and may contribute to suicidal inclination.
Today’s report also includes the following recommendations for Department of Homeland Security, ICE, and detention facility operators:
- Ensure fair release processes. To combat the increasing over-incarceration of immigrants in detention centers, DHS and ICE should ensure fair and consistent release processes.
- Ensure adequate and timely medical health care. ICE, detention facility operators, and their relevant health subcontractors should implement reforms and policies to provide adequate and timely medical and mental health care.
- Implement independent medical oversight board. ICE and detention facility operators should work with communities to implement an Independent Medical Oversight Board (IMOB) to increase public transparency and accountability toward the delivery of quality medical care for immigrant detainees.
- Adoption of Civil Detention Standards: Immigrants should not be held in facilities with penal conditions. Instead ICE should adopt standards that ensure conditions for detention centers that provide a more normalized environment, consistent with the ABA Civil Immigration Standards, which call for the least restrictive form of custody .
- Ensure Food and Water Quality: Food and water quality should be improved and inspected regularly to ensure that unspoiled or uncooked food is never provided and so that unlimited clean water is provided free of charge.
- Increased Oversight of Facility Staff: ICE and detention facility operators should increase oversight of detention facility staff to prevent maltreatment and discrimination of detainees.
- Improve Access to Counsel and Communications: Phone numbers for consulates, legal service providers, and other community groups should be placed in a more easily accessible locations.