Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Prison Of The Brave In The Land Of The Free

On Wednesday this week, the same day that the Department of Homeland Security decided to reject a federal court petition after a two and a half years delay calling for legally enforceable detention standards, detainees in the immigration detention centre in Basile, Louisiana have started their 5th hunger strike in the past month to protest substandard conditions.

Over 60 detainees are participating in the staged waves of three-day hunger strikes at the privately run 1,002-bed facility operated by LCS Corrections Services Inc. and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. According to the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice six men at the immigration prison have been put in solitary confinement as a result of their participation in the hunger strike. They and around 100 other detainees have been playing roles as human rights monitors, speaking out about detention conditions and contributing to a damning report published by the Workers' Center. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency in charge of immigrant detention, has claimd that the solitary confinement isn't disciplinary, but precautionary "medical isolation."

Five inmates said they had been placed in the "hole" on the morning of July 23 for planning a hunger strike. The next day they were brought out of the "hole," cuffed at the ankles and wrists, and interrogated for two hours

Detainees have complained of rats, mosquitoes, flies, and spiders inside their cells. One Jewish detainee, Manuchar Khalhaturov, has said he was denied a kosher diet, while others said the detention centre's food routinely made them sick. Others complaints include that the phone cards that take a week to be issued once purchased regularly fail to work and that the jail ran out of soap and toothpaste for 3 weeks in July.

These conditions would put the facility in violation of several standards issued by the Department of Homeland Security for immigrant detainees, but federal officials responsible for the detainees flatly deny they have been subjected to any mistreatment. In fact, Philip Miller, acting field office director in New Orleans for ICE, visited the Basile facility on July 16 and said he found its maintenance and pest control program satisfactory.

All this follows the issuing of a highly critical report, 'Jailed Without Justice', in March this year from Amnesty International claiming that thousands of immigration detainees in America are being held in violation of international law.

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