Inspector Paints A Rosy Picture Of Migrant Detention Centers — In Contrast To Audits

March 2019 report, following inspection of the Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, Texas, a border city overwhelmed by recent waves of Central American migrants seeking asylum.

“Detainees were satisfied with all conditions of their confinement.”

Nakamoto’s bland assessments — some of which date back more than a decade — stand in stark contrast to recent findings by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, state auditors and outside watchdog groups, which have documented lax medical and mental health care and inappropriate use of solitary confinement at multiple U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency facilities.

A review by Kaiser Health News of thousands of pages of inspection reports from 2007 to 2012, and 2017 to 2019 — made available through litigation and new federal reporting requirements — reveals disturbing patterns about the company’s audits, including a general willingness to accept the accounts of the facilities that the company is paid to scrutinize, and to discount detainees’ complaints.

The findings show that Nakamoto has rarely reported bad news about conditions at the for-profit and government-run facilities it audits. Violations in the quality of medical care and safety of detainees are infrequent and cursory, according to a review of federal records and court documents.

For example, a surprise May 2018 inspection by government investigators at the Adelanto ICE Processing Facility in California’s Mojave Desert “revealed significant health and safety risks,” “improper and overly restrictive segregation” and “inadequate detainee medical care,” according to the Homeland Security agency’s inspector general.

A separate 2019 investigation by Disability Rights California, a nonprofit group with legal authority to monitor detention centers in California, highlighted people with serious mental illness being doused with pepper spray and multiple unreported suicide attempts.

Yet Nakamoto drew a very different conclusion in its 2018 report on Adelanto: While it noted hundreds of grievances from detainees and 83 physical assaults during the inspection period — more than one-third of which resulted in injuries that required medical referrals — its report concluded that “without exception, detainees stated that they felt safe at this facility.”

January inspection of the Otero County Processing Center, a 1,000-bed detention facility in Chaparral, N.M., Nakamoto inspectors noted and wrote off complaints about lukewarm showers (“water temperatures were checked and were within the parameters”) and requests for food items from detainees (“they were all from countries that partake in non-traditional foods that are most likely not approved for consumption in the United States”).

They concluded that, “without exception, detainees stated that they felt safe at the facility,” which is operated by the Management and Training Corp.

In fact, asylum-seekers at Otero had voiced grave concerns about conditions and long waits in detention, going so far as to stage nearly 100 hunger strikes last year.

While Nakamoto inspectors noted the hunger strikes, they accepted the facility’s explanation that they were being staged by “certain nationalities” who “apparently believe that they should be catered to at a higher rate of service than other detainees.”

A Death In Detention

Similarly, in dozens of audits at different facilities, Nakamoto inspectors methodically refuted complaints about medical care based largely on records that immigration attorneys say are often inaccurate or incomplete.

A detainee held in Versailles, Mo., for instance, told a Nakamoto inspector in February that he needed glasses. Nakamoto accepted the facility’s determination that he did not and suggested instead that a lack of natural light might be contributing to his poor vision.

At Webb County Detention Center in Laredo, Texas, a woman said she waited 15 days and made two requests to see a doctor. Again, Nakamoto accepted the facility’s determination: “The detainee was seen and treated in a timely manner.”

Cho, the ACLU attorney who is suing ICE, alleging detainee mistreatment, said, “There is a culture of not buying what detainees credibly have to say.”

When Kamyar Samimi, an Iranian national with permanent residency status, died in custody in December 2017, the divergence between Nakamoto’s assessment and that of federal investigators was striking.

Samimi, 64, had been arrested at his Denver home on Nov. 17, 2017, based on a 2005 drug conviction. Two weeks later, while detained at the ICE facility in Aurora, Colo., he vomited blood, stopped breathing and died 17 minutes after arriving at a nearby medical center.

In an inspection several months after Samimi’s death, Nakamoto inspectors reported he had been complaining of depression and withdrawal from methadone, a prescription drug he took daily to treat a long-dormant addiction. He had been placed on suicide watch, the company said, but no concerns about his medical treatment were found.

In its inquiry into the death, ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility found that staff had failed to fully administer his medication and to seek emergency treatment in a timely manner.

When Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote Jennifer Nakamoto last November to express “deep concern” about the company’s work, Nakamoto said the inspector general didn’t understand the complexities of people held in prison-like centers.

In her written response, Nakamoto mockingly referred to government inspectors in quotation marks and questioned their qualifications. She described herself as “a hard-working minority woman, who took a risk 15 years ago in forming a small business to try to make my way in this great country.” She maintained her people are experts in their field and “staunch advocates of detainee rights.”

“Our work ethic is second to none,” she wrote. “We do not report inaccurately nor do we misrepresent information in our reports.”

[email protected], @SarahVarney4

Related Topics

Mental Health Public Health Immigrants Prison Health Care

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