- ICE used solitary confinement more than 14,000 times between 2018 and 2023
- One immigrant detainee in California was held for 759 days
- Nearly half of solitary placements exceeded 15 days
- Human rights groups argue that solitary confinement is harmful and should be scaled back
- The United Nations considers solitary confinement longer than 15 days a form of torture
- ICE’s use of solitary confinement is expected to grow in 2023
- Report conducted by Physicians for Human Rights, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Medical School
- About 700 solitary placements lasted at least 90 days, and 42 lasted over a year
- ICE spokesperson claims detainees are placed in isolation as a last resort and denies using it as a method of retaliation
- Approximately 40% of detainees in solitary confinement have documented mental health conditions
- For transgender detainees, the average length of solitary confinement is two months
- About 38,500 immigrants are currently held by ICE
- ICE has issued directives to limit the use of solitary confinement, particularly for vulnerable populations
- Detainees in solitary confinement are isolated for up to 24 hours a day, causing adverse health effects
- ICE has faced criticism for its approach to and oversight of solitary confinement
- Democratic senators have called out ICE’s excessive use of solitary confinement
- Formerly detained individuals describe limited access to phone calls, recreation, medical care, and medications
- ICE detainee urges President Biden to end the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been criticized for its extensive use of solitary confinement at its detention facilities, according to a report published on Tuesday. The report, conducted by Physicians for Human Rights, Harvard Law School, and Harvard Medical School, reveals that ICE used solitary confinement over 14,000 times between 2018 and 2023.
One immigrant detainee in California was held in solitary confinement for a staggering 759 days. The average duration of solitary placements at ICE facilities was about a month, with nearly half exceeding 15 days. Solitary confinement is not only used as a form of punishment but also to protect certain at-risk immigrants.
However, human rights groups argue that the practice of solitary confinement is harmful and should be significantly reduced in all U.S. prisons and detention facilities. The United Nations has even labeled solitary confinement longer than 15 consecutive days as a form of torture.
ICE has faced criticism in recent years for its reliance on solitary confinement and a lack of proper oversight and monitoring. The 71-page report, one of the most comprehensive studies to date on ICE’s use of solitary confinement, was based on internal ICE records obtained through litigation under the Freedom of Information Act.
The report highlights several concerning findings. Approximately 700 solitary placements lasted at least 90 days, and 42 placements lasted for more than a year. The longest completed instance of solitary confinement was that of a Mexican woman held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego for 759 consecutive days.
ICE standards generally limit disciplinary isolation to 30 days per violation. However, administrative segregation, which is considered non-punitive and meant for the detainee’s safety, can be indefinite. The report also reveals that mental health conditions were documented in about 40% of the nearly 8,800 records that included mental health information.
For transgender detainees, the average length of solitary confinement was two months. ICE spokesperson Mike Alvarez claims that detainees are placed in solitary confinement only after careful consideration of alternatives and denies using solitary confinement as a method of retaliation.
Currently, there are approximately 38,500 immigrants being held by ICE. The agency has issued directives in the past to limit the use of solitary confinement, particularly for vulnerable populations. However, watchdog reports have repeatedly identified failures in ICE’s approach to and oversight of solitary confinement.
Formerly detained individuals interviewed for the report described having limited or no access to phone calls, recreation, medical care, and medications while in solitary confinement. The adverse health effects of prolonged solitary confinement are well-documented, including an increased risk of suicide and brain damage.
President Biden, during his candidacy, pledged to end the use of solitary confinement in federal prisons. However, the report authors call on him to also phase out the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention, stating that “there is still time” to leave a positive legacy from his administration.