Solitary confinement has become a routine practice in immigration detention centers, according to a story published in the New York Times this week.
The story was based on a study encompassing 50 of the largest detention facilities in the country, including several in Arizona. Its findings revealed that about 300 detainees are held in solitary confinement on any given day - at least half of those are held for 15 days or more.
Solitary confinement for any amount of time, and particularly if prolonged for more than 15 days, has been documented as being extremely harmful to a person's mental state. That, in conjunction with the indefinite nature of detention in general, makes for a potentially mentally scarring experience. This problem could be compounded even more if the detainee has been a victim of persecution, domestic violence, or human trafficking as is common among those detained.
As the article points out, the solitary confinement of immigration detainees is particularly troubling because these detainees are being held on "civil" grounds, rather than criminal. Although some, but not all, immigration detainees do have criminal records, they have already served their time in the criminal system. They have thus paid their debt to society for whatever crime they were convicted of, and are being held in detention awaiting a determination of their immigration status alone.
Still others in detention have no criminal record whatsoever. No matter one's opinion on immigration enforcement - it is simply appalling that there is a possibility that those detainees could be placed in solitary confinement.
Certainly, it goes against existing international human rights standards. United Nations special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, has recently stated that the United States is "in breach of its obligations under the Torture Convention," based on the widely accepted theory that the sensory deprivation that is inherent to solitary confinement amounts to torture.
The newspaper interviewed one detainee in Pinal County Jail, in Florence, Arizona, who had been placed in solitary confinement based on alleged arguing with a detention guard. By the detainee's account, he was denied the opportunity to view a videotape of the alleged argument.
Reasons for sending detainees to solitary confinement include other behavioral infractions such as fighting with other detainees, being thought to pose a threat to detainees, or possession of contraband.
They say it gets worse before it gets better. This report signifies a new and astounding low - and is an urgent call to action for the federal government to make things better.