The United Nations (UN) has repeatedly stated that solitary confinement can qualify as torture and should only be used in "exceptional cases as a last resort." In addition, ICE detention facility protocols make clear that solitary confinement is a "serious step" that should only be used as a "last resort and when no other viable housing options exist." The protocols also prohibit the use of "a detainee's age, physical disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, or religion ... as the sole basis for a decision to place the detainee in involuntary segregation."
However, according to a trove of recently released documents and two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (IG) reports that investigated solitary confinement at ICE facilities, "solitary confinement was being used as the first resort, not the last resort... and sometimes (as) the only approach" when ICE facilities "don't know what to do with (detainees) including the disabled and LGBTQ people." The reports released by the DHS IG in late 2017 found that (1) some ICE detention facilities "may have misused segregation" and (2) ICE field offices were failing to follow important solitary confinement recordkeeping protocols. These reports were corroborated by a whistleblower who reiterated her concerns that "this same set of circumstances will not stop. ... And ... will actually get worse."
In her letter, Senator Warren expressed serious concern with ICE's disturbing use of solitary confinement at its detention facilities, noting that the agency's practices appear to directly violate its own protocols.
"I am concerned that ICE continues to overuse and misuse solitary confinement - where detainees are locked down for at least 22 hours a day - as a cruel and unnecessary solution for detainees who have mental or physical disabilities, are disabled, have been victims of sexual assault or torture, or otherwise may be especially vulnerable and in need of protection," wrote Senator Warren in her letter.
The letter asked ICE a series of questions to better understand how its detention facilities are currently utilizing solitary confinement, and how the agency has addressed previous concerns about the use of solitary confinement. Senator Warren requested ICE provide answers to her questions by July 5, 2019.
Senator Warren's letter is part of her ongoing efforts to bring better oversight to federal immigration detention, and to raise concerns about the health and safety of detainees:
In November 2018, Senator Warren led ten of her Senate colleagues in sending letters to the two largest private immigration detention contractors in the United States requesting information about the companies' compliance with federal immigration detention standards following a DHS OIG report about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers.
In April 2019, she led her colleagues in writing to ICE in response to the findings of the senators' investigation of private prison companies' compliance with federal immigration detention standards, which revealed that neither the private prison companies nor their private auditor have taken responsibility for grievous failures identified by the DHS IG.
Last month, Senator Warren sent a letter to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requesting information regarding recent reports that two children died in CBP custody and to get answers on steps CBP is taking to protect children in its custody.
Late last month, the Senator opened an investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities nationwide.