By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
SACRAMENTO – Immigrant rights organizations called out “brutal” and “inhumane” conditions for migrant ICE detainees in Northern California – and announced a hunger strike in the Yuba County Jail in Marysville beginning Sunday. About 40 detainees stopped eating Sunday. There were other hunger strikes reported in other parts of the U.S.
Speaking in front of the Sacramento County Jail – Sacramento recently announced it won’t be housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees – dozens of migrant supporters said civil detainees not receiving medical or dental care, are treated like criminals not civil detainees, live in deplorable, unsanitary conditions with blocked toilets, and suffer other health and safety issues.
“The Yuba County Jail is rife with constitutional violations,” said Ronda Rios Kravitz, who described a litany of wrongs at the jail she said has been a target of the courts and organizations for decades.
“For 40 years conditions have not changed. They are brutal and they are inhumane,” she said, noting there have been at least 41 suicide attempts at the jail since 2014, and that a UC Berkeley literature grad student committed suicide in the jail in January 2017 while locked in a rubber “safety” cell.
Tifanei Ressl-Moyer, an attorney who is working with Disability Rights California on a current class action lawsuit against the Sacramento County Jail for similar unconstitutional treatment of prisoners, spoke out against similar treatment of ICE detainees in Yuba County.
“I’ve been investigating cases (in jails) of horrific treatment. These cases (of migrant detainees) are inhumane and unconscionable to people not accused of any crime,” she said.
Kravitz said a supplemental civil rights class action lawsuit was filed against the County in November 2016. A class action lawsuit noted “a man who for week was not allowed to have the care he needed and who could only hobble in pain in the area immediately near his bed, a woman suffering from major depression who skips meals and services because of her untreated despondent state and a man in a wheelchair who faced numerous architectural barriers detained at the jail whose wheelchair sustained damage and who fell repeatedly in the shower.”
Other cases include, in October 2014, a man who attempted to hang himself in the shower, using a sheet. Other inmates found the man. Because there was no emergency call button, inmates had to scream for several minutes to get the guards attention. When the guards arrived, they weren’t carrying the proper masks to conduct CPR. The inmates worked to revive the man. A few months later, the inmate who had been attempting CPR on his friend attempted to hang himself in the very same way.
Kravitz said ICE officials admit Yuba County does a poor job of monitoring its own jail, citing recent audits when ICE found that the facility did not properly investigate sexual assaults or guards use of force. Jail officials did not medically screen inmates after such incidents, and failed to inform ICE about what occurred, the audits found County officials did not respond to writing to ICE audits.
Currently, Yuba County pockets about $6.5 million for providing up 400 beds for ICE civil detainees. About 170 detainees are now being held for ICE. Tens of thousands are behind bars in 200 locations throughout the U.S.
The 40 detainees in two pods who stopped eating Sunday released the following demands:
- Immigration detainees and county inmates must be housed separately.
- Ensure that ICE and Grand Jury inspections lead to sustained compliance or systemic improvements.
- Immediately improve medical, mental health, and dental treatment services for new, existing, or emergency conditions.
- Follow ICE guidelines for timely medical care.
- Medical requests must be answered within 24 hours.
- Ensure that the staffing levels for medical and mental health providers as set forth in Exhibit C of the Amended Consent Decree are regularly and consistently being met.
- Hygiene issues must be addressed. Provide gloves that meet health and safety standards. Eliminate bugs and mold in the showers Provide clean clothes.
- Expand and provide constructive programming to detainees.
- Expand canteen and package items allowed. Ensure items are not expired.
- Allow radios and more TV channels.
- Improve translation services, and availability of translators.
- Address maintenance issues in a timely manner. If the temperature falls too low as per ICE guidelines, it must be fixed. Fix toilets, plugged sinks, hot water in the showers.
Existing conditions made public Sunday include:
- Inadequate medical, mental health, and dental treatment services for new, existing, or emergency conditions.
- Long waits to see health professionals. Medical slips are not answered within 24 hours. One detainee submitted a dental request on November 30, 2018 and as of January 21, 2019, the detainee still has not seen a dentist.
- In -house substance abuse support groups were suspended.
- Grave safety and health issues result from county inmates who come in sick, and in some cases are withdrawing from meth and/or the influence of narcotics.
- Mental health supports are mainly centered on prescription medication.
- There are no non-emergency or on-going mental health services available to inmates/detainees.
- Segregation of the mentally ill is provided in unsanitary rubber rooms which may be covered in blood and feces.
- There is a critical need for improved oversight and accountability for the segregation of detainees/inmates with mental health conditions.
- Insufficient attorney visitation rooms.
- High costs to place phone calls outside of the facility.
- Insufficient exercise and recreation facilities.
- Deficient inmate programs, staff support, and laundry spaces.
- Of the average 407 inmates that occupy the YCJ, only 15-20 are able to receive programming per day (BSCC, 6-18-15).
- Dysfunctional grievance processes.
- Outdated facilities.
- ICE does not fully use contracting tools to hold the medical facility contractor accountable for failing to meet performance standards.
- Moldy and mildewed shower stalls.
- Hot water for drinking and cooking (e.g., soups) is dirty. The containers are not washed on a regular basis.
- The Jail fails to provide rubber gloves that meet health and safety standards to detainees to clean showers, toilets, and contaminated cells.
- Inoperable phones..
- Detainees requesting use of a phone before 3 pm should have access to a phone within two hours. This never happens.
- ICE and Grand Jury inspections to not lead to sustained compliance or systemic improvements.
- Detention of detainees is a barrier to legal representation.
- Communication barriers make it difficult for detainees to contact potential counsel.
- Medical staff does not participate in fire drills.
- Detainees are treated as if they were serving criminal sentences and are subject to the same punitive conditions as the county inmates, e.g., 19-hour per day lockdowns.
- A copy of the Consent Decree had not been provided to the Grand Jury for an undetermined number of years and was not provided to the 2014-15 Grand Jury until the Grand Jury discovered the omission through a news reports. This is a violation of the Consent Decree.
- Ongoing maintenance is an ongoing problem, cells have broken lights, toilets don’t flush, temperature control in cells is uneven, e.g., no hot water in shower for three days, extremely cold temperatures in cells lasting eight days.
- Translators are not provided. Write-ups for infractions are given in English. Detainees who do not sign write-ups because they do not speak English are automatically found guilty and a punishment is imposed.
- Commissary items are often expired.
- Religious services are not offered.
- Grievances are not confidential which discourages reporting.
- Exercise is offered on the roof area at 5:30 am. If detainees do not wake up at this time and miss the exercise time, the log book reflects that detainees did not use the area. They are not given a wake-up call.
- Use of toilets are denied when detainees are outside their cells during the five hour per day Program Time.
Supporters shared parts of some letters received from migrant detainees:
DETAINEE #1: “I believe this facility does not care for our wellbeing maybe because our migratory status we are looked down upon and not treated equally. We deserve to have better health-care, and be treated like human beings that we are.”
DETAINEE #2: “As for my own personal concerns, I have experienced more stress in this facility because of the program we have to follow. As a civil detainee we are forced to follow the county jail program. We have to stay locked up in our cells for 19 hours a day.”
DETAINEE #3: “I will close my statement by asking the public to help us improve the conditions at the Yuba County Jail, we are human beings detained as civil detainees, all we want is to be treated humanely. Thank you.”
PSL Sacramento and NorCal Resist, as well as Step Up! and the National Lawyers Guild, Sacramento Chapter participated as co-sponsors in the rally/press conference Sunday to announce the hunger strike.