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Human, Immigrant Rights Groups File Federal Complaint to Address Abuse at Winn Correctional Center

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last week, a group of human and immigrant rights organizations submitted a federal civil rights complaint on behalf of individuals detained at the Winn Correctional Center, run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and for-profit prison contractor, LaSalle Corrections, for the unjustified use of force, abuse and medical neglect after ICE officers indiscriminately pepper-sprayed a dorm of approximately 200 individuals, then cut off power and water to the entire unit.

Detained individuals were participating in a peaceful demonstration and hunger strike to protest the conditions of their confinement when ICE officials began the attack on January 26, 2024. The complaint, submitted to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on March 27, describes the attack as a blatant violation of the individuals’ rights under the U.S. Constitution, federal and state law and ICE’s own legal standards and directives. It is the latest in a long history of documented abuses at the Winn Correctional Center, some of which were included in a scathing report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in 2021.

The organizations involved in submitting the complaint include the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Immigration Services and Legal Advocacy, the Southern Poverty Law Centerthe ACLU of Louisiana, and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, They are requesting an immediate federal investigation into the January 26 attack.

“Individuals at Winn were engaging in their protected right to peaceful protest when they were indiscriminately attacked without warning,” said Sarah Decker, staff attorney at Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “This egregious suppression of detained people’s First Amendment rights is only the latest example of the documented history of abuse at Winn and further exemplifies that the only appropriate response is to shut down Winn and release all detained people to their families and loved ones.”

“What is occurring at Winn Correctional Center under the supervision of the New Orleans ICE Field Office is horrific,” said Tania Wolf, Senior Project Coordinator at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “Individuals detained are being denied basic human dignity: they have little to no access to potable water, served expired food, denied adequate medical and mental health care, and subjected to physical assaults and verbal abuse. The real immigration crisis in the Southeast U.S. is mass immigration detention, and detaining individuals in punitive, abhorrent prison-like conditions. The Biden administration must take urgent, immediate action to prevent the contract renewal at Winn Correctional Center, set to expire in May of this year. The administration has the power to stop allowing private prison companies to profit off the pain and suffering of human beings and instead invest our tax dollars in public education, affordable housing, healthcare programs, and other community-based initiatives that benefit everyone in our communities.”

“The Biden administration went from promising to roll back federal contracts with private prison companies, like the one that runs Winn, to siding with them throughout the past three years,” said Mich P. González, Member of the Southeast Dignity Not Detention Coalition & Associate Executive Director of Freedom for Immigrants. “Whether it’s the repeated decision to ignore the peaceful protestors inside detention who risk violent retaliation to expose the cruel conditions that contributed to another premature death, or their renewal of contracts with these unethical companies at the expense of investments in healthy, sustainable jobs in places like Winn Parish where they’re so desperately needed, this administration continues to cast aside immigrant lives as bargaining chips and political pawns to further an agenda of dehumanization and genocide. We demand President Biden and Secretary Mayorkas listen to their own oversight agency and stop sending people to Winn. We demand this administration prioritize human life and dignity over corporate profiteering. Shut it down!”