The Intercept details that a report from the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) claims that — during the first 15 months of Donald Trump’s administration — approximately 40 percent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees held in solitary confinement were mentally ill. The number is 15.2 percent more than the final 15 months of Barack Obama’s administration that preceded Trump’s inauguration.
Solitary confinement is typically defined as isolation for 22 hours a day in a small cell with no meaningful social contact. According to a separate investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the most common reason for ICE’s use of solitary confinement is breaking the rules. Not only that, ICE’s use of the punishment isolated thousands of members of the vulnerable population — including individuals with severe mental illness, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ people — for significant periods of time.
The POGO report unearthed nine disturbing cases where detainees — some with mental illness, including one woman with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a man “diagnosed with psychotic disorder” — were confined for more than a year at a time.
The same report found that the number of solitary confinement placements increased by almost 400 from 2016 to 2017, which is disturbing considering the United Nations says the practice should be banned save for “very exceptional circumstances.”
Independent watchdog @POGOBlog identified at least nine cases in which ICE detainees, some of whom were recorded as having a mental illness, were held in isolation for more than a year. https://t.co/odvx6Wd9u1
— The Intercept (@theintercept) August 14, 2019
Psychology Today reports that many mental health disorders, including depression, social anxiety, and addiction, thrive on loneliness and isolation. For this reason, the U.N. suggests that solitary confinement is never used on people with mental illness.
ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox defended the agency by citing data showing that its use of isolation is less than the national average for prisoners.
“Any suggestion that the use of segregation in ICE custody is above the norm for detained populations would be a false claim,” he wrote. “In reality, segregation in ICE custody is employed at a rate significantly below the national average for detained populations.”
Trump’s handling of the border crisis has been widely criticized — Pew Research Center suggests that most Americans believe he’s doing a poor job.
“The conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities,” she wrote in a medical declaration.
Sevier also said the conditions “felt worse than jail.”
“It just felt, you know, lawless. I mean, imagine your own children there. I can’t imagine my child being there and not being broken.”