MACCLENNY, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM obtained an inspection report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the federal wing of the Baker County Detention Center, which was described in a federal complaint as a “living hell.”
In the federal inspection report, the lead compliance inspector for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ruled that the facility meets standards and is in compliance with federal detention standards. But human rights advocates say it doesn’t depict the truth.
According to the report, 44 detainees were interviewed in May, and none of them expressed any concerns about their safety or contacted the Office of the Inspector General to make a complaint.
And the report shows federal inspectors found the holding wing well maintained and in acceptable sanitation levels.
That’s different than what 16 human rights groups alleged in the 102-page federal complaint, which described “inhumane conditions” at the facility. The complaint also says roughly 100 detainees took part in a hunger strike and allege retaliation.
Detainees say they were denied their right to contact anyone, the water to the jail cells was shut off, they were unable to flush their toilets, and women were forced to use socks as sanitary napkins.
“So we are worried to some extent that the harm and the conditions reported in our complaint may not be seen by investigators,” said Lily Hartman, a human rights advocate whose organization, Americans for Immigrant Justice, coauthored the federal complaint calling for ICE to cancel its contract with Baker County.
Hartman says the staff at Baker County’s Detention Center hand-picked the detainees who were interviewed.
“We received reports from many individuals who actually signed up ahead of time as per the protocol to speak to the investigators but were never called,” Hartman said.
Hartman adds that the Baker County Sheriff’s Office was given several days’ notice that federal inspectors were on the way, giving the staff advance notice and time to prepare.
“We really believe that unannounced inspections are the most effective because we’ve received reports that if detention center staff are aware of an upcoming investigation or a tour of the facility, that they may post additional paperwork or notices to detained immigrants that should have been there in the first place, that they’ll issue additional hygiene supplies or provide better food,” Hartman said.
Human rights advocates say staff at Baker County’s detention facility discouraged detainees from making complaints or encouraged them to make their grievances internally.
News4JAX is awaiting an official response from ICE.
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. He issued the following statement:
“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.”