ALBUQUERQUE, NM — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released last week a troubling audit report indicating severe lack of compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) at the Torrance County Detention Facility in Estancia.
Torrance failed to meet 11 of 39 applicable standards at the time of the audit in April 2022. After a six-month corrective action period ending on Dec. 20, the facility remedied fewer than half of those violations. Torrance is still out of compliance with six PREA standards including those related to investigating allegations and accommodating people with disabilities and limited English proficiency.
Torrance is owned and operated by CoreCivic and detains people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody through a contract between ICE and Torrance County.
“This deeply troubling audit is further proof that ICE, CoreCivic, and Torrance County are unable to ensure the safety of people detained in the Torrance County Detention Facility,” said Rebecca Sheff, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico. “It’s long past time ICE terminates its contract and stops detaining people -- including many asylum seekers who have faced harrowing journeys to the U.S. seeking protection -- at this facility.”
The most concerning findings in the audit report include:
- TCDF staff failed to report two allegations of sexual abuse against facility staff to all required authorities, including the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility and the DHS Office of Inspector General. Two other sexual abuse allegations from the audit period were also not adequately reported to all required authorities.
- During the corrective action period following the initial audit findings, Torrance continued to fail to consistently report sexual abuse allegations to all required authorities, including the ICE Joint Intake Center.
- The report includes three instances that raise serious questions about the care and protection of transgender people detained in Torrance:
- Torrance is required to screen people upon arrival at the facility and assign them to their detention housing within 12 hours. Despite that, a transgender individual who arrived at Torrance on Sept. 30, 2021, was not assigned housing until Oct. 4, 2021.
- The facility failed to document whether staff had consulted a medical or mental health professional regarding a transgender individual’s housing placement as required.
- For a transgender individual in Torrance who had experienced previous sexual abuse, the facility did not indicate whether the individual was referred to a medical or mental health professional for follow-up within the timeframe set by the PREA standards.
The audit reviewed cases that occurred between May 16, 2019, and Jan. 27, 2022. The corrective action period during which Torrance was given an opportunity to remedy its non-compliance with standards was between June 23 and Dec. 20.
ICE has continued putting at risk the lives of people detained at Torrance, despite multiple reports in recent months concluding that the detention operations there jeopardize people’s health and safety. In September, the DHS Office of Inspector General released a report detailing “egregious conditions” at Torrance and calling upon ICE to immediately remove everyone detained from Torrance.
In late 2022, in the wake of the tragic in-custody death of Kesley Vial, Torrance’s ICE population was reduced to just a handful of people. However, ICE has since initiated new transfers into the facility, which advocates report now detains roughly 400 people at a given time.
“It’s unconscionable that despite a mountain of evidence about how acutely dangerous the detention center is, ICE and the Biden Administration have not only continued using Torrance but actually increased the number of people detained there,” said Sheff.
The ACLU of New Mexico has repeatedly called for the termination of the ICE contract for Torrance, as well as the release of all people detained in the facility so they can seek the community support and resources they need.
Torrance previously failed an inspection by ICE’s own auditors and has a well-documented history of atrocious conditions and dangerous levels of understaffing. A report released earlier this month by advocates, including Innovation Law Lab, detailed inhumane and abusive conditions at the facility, including measures that deter people from expressing thoughts of self-harm or accessing necessary mental health services.