Detention Oversight

Detention oversight is ineffective, putting people’s lives at risk

Image credit: Alonso Yáñez/La Opinion

Despite 2009 immigration detention reforms and the Obama administration’s promises for greater government transparency, a culture of secrecy persists around immigration detention oversight. The combined lack of transparency and accountability allows detention centers to continue operating without any fear of having to answer for the inhumane treatment of people in detention.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) inspections process is based on the standard adopted by the inspected facility. There are three versions of the standards in use: the 2000 National Detention Standards (NDS), and the 2008 and 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS). None of these standards are legally codified however, meaning there is little recourse if facilities are not meeting standards.

Even the most recent standards do not cover many important aspects that affect the daily lives of detained individuals, including the affordability of phone calls, contact visitation, or the remote location of a facility that could limit access to legal services and community support.

Perhaps most concerning is the absence of consequences for facilities, which subject detained people to inhumane and degrading treatment. In 2009, Congress required ICE to stop contracting with any facility that failed two inspections in a row. Rather than leading to closure of the worst facilities, the inspections have become a sham. Based on documents recently received through a Freedom of Information Act request, no facility has been closed as a result of failing two inspections in a row and recent documents from ICE show a consistent 100 percent pass rate.

The current inspections process is broken and leads to a continuation of detention center abuse and worsening detention conditions. It also allows local contractors to continue profiting off human suffering. In order to fight against an ineffective and harmful inspections regime, DWN calls for a greater level of accountability and transparency, and seeks to create alternative systems of accountability through civil society monitoring.

ICE Detention Standards

Immigrant Detention Inspections

DWN's Immigrant Detention Inspection Series is an ongoing project of supporting members and allies in conducting NGO-led inspections of ICE detention centers. These inspections allow stakeholders to conduct a facility walkthrough and interview people in detention to expose the reality of detention centers.

Learn More About Detention Oversight