ESTANCIA, NM – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico demands that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) end its contract to detain people in the troubled Torrance County Detention Facility following the release of a new watchdog report detailing “egregious conditions” that put at immediate risk the health and safety of people detained in the facility.
The report released this morning by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) identified multiple standards violations ranging from inadequate medical care and deficient security to unsanitary conditions and staff shortages that are even more severe than previously reported. The report comes after inspectors issued an extremely rare urgent alert in March calling for the immediate removal of everyone detained at the facility, which ICE ignored. Torrance, operated by private prison company CoreCivic, has previously failed an inspection by ICE’s own auditors and has a well-documented history of atrocious conditions and dangerous levels of understaffing.
The governmental watchdog also repeated its call, first issued in March, for ICE to immediately remove everyone detained from Torrance. The facility is currently detaining approximately 70 people in immigration custody.
Despite being paid about $2 million a month for detaining people on behalf of the federal government thanks to a 505-bed guaranteed minimum, CoreCivic has been wholly unable to meet its contractually obligated staffing levels. The facility had a 54% staff vacancy rate in January. Torrance had 59 vacant positions open for an average of 149 days as of July 1, according to records obtained on behalf of Innovation Law Lab, including one nurse position that had been vacant for 457 days.
Those vacancies are impacting medical care, with the OIG today finding that “medical unit vacancies impacted the level of care detainees received for suicide watch, dental care, and chronic care.” Medical deficiencies included failures to safeguard narcotics and dispose of expired medication and false information in the tracking system for medications administered to detained people.
According to ICE, “[t]he current medical staffing shortfalls places [sic] in question TCDF [Torrance’s] operational capability.” CoreCivic’s own staff have acknowledged that the shortages are “problematic,” yet they have persisted since at least late 2020.
The OIG found ICE officers often failed to respond to detained people’s written requests in a timely way and then frequently failed to keep logs of requests as required. Facility staff, when asked for their required records of requests by people in detention, “produced a blank logbook.” This is especially troubling because ICE officers are rarely at Torrance in person, making written communications the only way people in detention can get information about the status of their cases or when they’ll be released.
Deeply concerning as well is the OIG’s reporting that CoreCivic and ICE failed to produce footage for inspectors of a use-of-force incident that took place in Torrance last year. Preserving those records is vital for ensuring safety and accountability for potential misconduct by facility personnel.
Earlier this week, people detained in Torrance issued a collective letter denouncing unsafe conditions and mistreatment at the facility and announcing a hunger strike.
Rebecca Sheff, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU of New Mexico, issued the following statement:
“This report proves in horrifying detail that it’s past time to end this contract and release everyone detained in Torrance so they can seek the care and support they need. ICE and CoreCivic have long known and ignored unsafe and unacceptable conditions at Torrance, instead issuing platitudes in an effort to whitewash their ongoing failures. False and incomplete medical records, empty logbooks meant for tracking important communications, missing use-of-force video footage, and less than half the required staffing are signs of a fundamentally inoperable and acutely dangerous facility. Simply put, ICE and CoreCivic have forfeited any credibility and can no longer be entrusted with the lives of people detained in Torrance.”