AFRICANGLOBE – Caribbean nationals are among a number of people held in solitary confinement at detention centres across the United States on a daily basis, according to new federal government data released.
The figures show that most of the detainees, overseen by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, are held for 15 days or more. Psychiatrists say that is the point where mental harm could result.
According to the data, about 300 immigrants are held in isolation in at least 50 large detention centres, and that roughly 35 are held for 75 or more days.
ICE officials said the 50 detention centres reviewed over a five-month period hold about 85 percent of the daily population of 34,000 detainees.
In defending ICE’s action, spokeswoman Ernestine Fobbs said besides immigrants who are separated from the general population for disciplinary reasons, detainees are isolated only “as a final resort, when other options are not available to address the specifics of the situation”.
Last week, ICE, acknowledged that it had taken 28 Caribbean and other immigrants into custody “after either violating the terms of their supervision or after the agency discovered information not available during an initial review of their case”.
An adviser who helped ICE review the data told reporters that about two-thirds of the immigrants in solitary confinement were put there for disciplinary reasons, such as breaking rules, talking back to guards or getting into fights.
The advisor, who preferred to remain anonymous, said the immigrants in isolation were viewed as a threat to other detainees or personnel or for protective purposes when the immigrant was gay or mentally ill.
Immigration lawyers, who interviewed some detainees and reviewed their records, said detainees in solitary confinement are routinely kept alone for 22 to 23 hours daily, sometimes in windowless 6-foot-by-13-foot cells.
“ICE is clearly using excessive force, since these are civil detentions,” said Dr Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who studies solitary confinement at the Wright Institute, a graduate school in psychology in Berkeley, California.
“And that makes this a human rights abuse. Immigrants have the worst situation. They have no advocates. Their family is afraid to complain,” he added.
Juan Mendez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has called for a ban on solitary confinement, except in limited situations, singling out the United States for its reliance on the method.
He said detainees should not be held in prolonged solitary confinement for 15 or more days, stating that sensory deprivation may amount to torture.
Additionally, Mendez urged countries to refrain from holding juveniles and others with mental disabilities in isolation.
“The United States is in breach of its obligations under the torture convention,” he said.