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Stint in Solitary Preceded Death in US Immigration Detention

Isolation for People with Mental Health Issues is Cruel, Inhuman

New information about the latest suicide in US immigration detention illustrates the cruelty of the system in ignoring detainees’ mental health needs.

An ICE detainee rests his hands on the window of his cell in the segregation wing at the Adelanto immigration detention center, which is run by the Geo Group Inc, in Adelanto, California, on April 13, 2017. © 2017 Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Efrain de la Rosa spent 21 days in solitary confinement at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. During his last day in isolation, he committed suicide.  

But the 40-year-old de la Rosa had been previously diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to The Intercept.  

Solitary confinement for any period of time for people with mental health conditions constitutes “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” under the United Nations Convention against Torture, to which the US is a party. His death is sadly part of a persistent pattern of abuse for people with mental health needs in US immigration detention.

Details of de la Rosa’s medical care in detention are still unknown.

When independent medical experts analyzed deaths in US immigration detention from 2010 to 2017 for Human Rights Watch, they found five cases in which people with psychosocial disabilities, like schizophrenia, committed suicide after prolonged periods in solitary confinement and inadequate mental health care.

One of these suicides was JeanCarlo Jimenez-Joseph, a 27-year-old who, like De la Rosa, died by suicide in the same Stewart Detention Center, which is run by the private company CoreCivic. Jimenez-Joseph had a known history of schizophrenia when he was ordered to 20 days in solitary confinement at the center. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reviewed his death and found that Jimenez-Joseph “repeatedly displayed suicidal behavior, but never got the mental health care he needed. He was also placed in an isolation cell that contained a known suicide hazard, a ceiling sprinkler head, upon which he affixed his makeshift noose.”

The Office of Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security in 2017 also found Stewart Detention Center had violated US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) own detention standards regarding solitary confinement. Despite repeated calls for the facility to be shut down, Stewart and other dangerous facilities continue to operate.

The Trump administration has eviscerated the limited safeguards for detained immigrants, and  has sought an unprecedented expansion of the immigration detention system. Congress needs to resist expanding these callous and cruel policies.

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