Detention conditions: Medical neglect, death and other immigration prison failures

As Mateo’s story demonstrates, immigrants held at immigration prisons struggle to receive the health care they need.


Detention conditions: Medical neglect, death and other immigration prison failures is part of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s No End in Sight report. Read the full report.


The 2016 SPLC report Shadow Prisons describes conditions in immigration prisons across the Deep South, including the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, where Mateo was held. Detained immigrants reported inadequate medical and mental health treatment, causing needless death and suffering. At all the facilities investigated in the report, detainees with chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, reported an inability to obtain medically appropriate meals.

In 2016, at least three people died in ICE custody at the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena, Louisiana, arguably due to a lack of medical or mental health treatment: Saul Enrique Banegas-Guzman, Thongchay Saengsiri and Juan Luis Boch-Paniagua. A year later, Jean Jimenez-Joseph committed suicide at Stewart while being held in solitary confinement. And in early 2018, Yulio Castro-Garrido died after being transferred to a hospital from Stewart. 

The 2016 SPLC report also found a general lack of protection from violence within the facilities. This failure is particularly acute among vulnerable detainees, including elderly, disabled and LGBT individuals.

Other reports have echoed these concerns. A 2017 report by Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic found widespread human rights violations at the Stewart and the Irwin County immigration prisons after interviewing more than 80 detainees.

It noted that the “unhygienic environment and poor living conditions not only take a toll on the detained immigrants’ health, but also have a negative and disturbing impact on the minds of the individuals being held in detention.”

The report documented the arbitrary and excessive use of solitary confinement, denial of medical care and severe understaffing of the medical unit. It also found religious discrimination, exorbitant phone fees and unreasonable restrictions on access to law libraries.

A 2017 report by the Department of Homeland Security’s own Office of Inspector General found issues at four of the five facilities examined during unannounced visits, noting that the problems “undermine the protection of detainees’ rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment.”

At Stewart, the staff impermissibly housed high-risk and low-risk detainees together, maintained an inadequate process for submitting grievances, and delayed medical care. At Stewart and two other facilities, the report noted violations of ICE standards “in the administration, justification, and documentation of segregation and lock-down of detainees.”6