MACCLENNY, Fla. – Civil rights groups have filed a complaint over what they describe as “inhumane conditions” at the federal wing of the Baker County Detention Center.
The 102-page federal complaint, which was filed by 16 groups on behalf of 15 current and former detainees, described the facility as a “living hell.”
Medical neglect, a lack of water and racially-motivated retaliation are some of the injustices alleged by the civil rights groups in the complaint on behalf of immigrants detained at the jail.
In the complaint, the current and former detainees also allege that officers routinely took them into jail cells that don’t have cameras, beat them and used pepper spray.
Andrea Jacoski is the director for Americans for Immigrant Justice, whose law firm assisted in coauthoring the federal complaint calling for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to shutter the federal facility. Spoiled and rotten food, a lack of hygiene products and non-drinkable water documented in the complaint are among the injustices immigrant advocates want the public to know about.
“A specific client of our law firm who was involved in a guard-involved altercation, or an officer attempted to physically assault her, and other guards had to restrain this officer from attacking our client,” Jacoski told the News4JAX I-TEAM on Tuesday. “And that was even before she came out publicly and was part of the named report, or became a name complainant in our report, and so there’s fear now that she, among others who have decided really to be part of this report, what could happen to them.”
Jacoski says the abuse intensified after about 100 people began a hunger strike in response to the inhumane conditions in May.
In retaliation, according to the complaint, inmates allege they were banned from external communications, the water to some of the jail cells was shut off, they were unable to flush their toilets, and women were forced to use socks as sanitary napkins.
Jacoski says those who reported the abuse are fearful for their lives, after calling a national immigration hotline. She says ICE has been aware of the treatment for months now and refuses to do anything about it.
“It’s clear that over the years, ICE and Baker have been unable to treat people humanely, detain them and respect their basic human rights,” Jacoski said. “And we’ve also seen that ICE has kind of turned a blind eye to what’s going on and in doing so ignored their own standards, ignored their own requirements.”
The I-TEAM on Tuesday spoke to Baker County Undersheriff Randy Crews by phone. His staff runs the ICE facility, but the federal government oversees the operations.
“We go through multiple inspections on a yearly basis at the detention center. We house several different classifications of inmates, not just detainees. They do not represent 50% of our population. We take all complaints seriously and work hand in hand with ICE to investigate. ICE oversees operations on a daily basis,” Crews said.
According to the federal complaint, some immigrants attempted suicide as a result of the inhumane conditions. Jacoski says other fear for their safety now that the complaint has been filed.
“So I think there’s also a degree of people having fear about what could happen to them if they do speak out,” Jacoski said. “And it’s very possible people have been are still withholding some information as a result of fear of retaliation.”
The Baker County facility houses more than 500 people, 135 of whom are immigrants detained by ICE.