Gadsden, Alabama — Today, Adelante Alabama, the Shut Down Etowah Campaign and Detention Watch Network celebrate the news that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will no longer use the Etowah County Jail (Etowah) in Alabama. To-date, Etowah has had the capacity to hold 357 people in ICE custody through a rider on an indefinite intergovernmental service agreement (IGSA) between Etowah County and U.S. Marshals Service (USMS). The facility was named on Detention Watch Network’s 2021 “First Ten to Communities Not Cages” list to provide the administration a roadmap of where to immediately begin facility shutdowns. Today’s announcement marks the second facility no longer to be used by ICE from that list.
“This is a decisive victory for the immigrant rights movement spurred by years of grassroots community organizing,” said Asher Stubsten, Community Organizer of the Shut Down Etowah Campaign. “Today’s announcement is a testament to how hard people in detention have fought for their freedom and why I, as an advocate, will always unite for the rights and dignity of immigrants and demand to abolish immigration detention.”
For more than two decades, people imprisoned in immigration detention at Etowah have been subject to its harsh conditions, including zero access to outdoor recreation, inadequate medical and mental health care, meager and barely edible food, and the longest average length of stay for people detained there system-wide. These punitive conditions, detailed in a 2021 brief sent to ICE and the Biden administration by Detention Watch Network and the Shut Down Etowah Campaign, are exacerbated by its remote location which impedes access to legal representation, family and other support networks. ICE first looked to end the Etowah contract in 2010, but politicians intervened to block this move despite the facility’s chronic issues. Six years later, in its first “super recommendation” memo, the civil rights office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called on ICE again to close the facility to no avail.
“This win is a sign of hope,” said Karim Golding, advocate formerly detained at Etowah County Detention Center. “This fight to shut down Etowah was before me. This is the place where I was placed in solitary confinement for two months all because I asked to be tested for COVID. This is the facility where I developed long COVID due to unsanitary conditions and lack of care for human life.”
Today’s announcement by ICE also included that it will not renew the guaranteed minimum contract provision, set to expire at the end of this month, for the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida and plans to pause usage of that facility. Additionally, ICE plans to modify the contracts for Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana and Alamance County Detention Center in Graham, North Carolina. More details on these facilities are slated to be released later today. Advocates say that anything short of contract termination and reduction in ICE’s custody operations budget will fall short.
While encouraged by the news that ICE will stop detaining people at Etowah which follows a similar move by ICE in May 2021 with the Irwin County Detention Center and Bristol County Detention Center, advocates are gravely concerned about people being transferred to other facilities or deported and that the facility will remain operational for people in criminal custody. Groups are demanding immediate action by the Biden administration to:
- Permanently close the Etowah County Jail
- Release everyone at the Etowah County Jail back to their loved ones and community without the use of transfers or deportations
- Permanently close and terminate contracts of the additional facilities named in today’s announcement: Glades County Detention Center in Florida, Winn Correctional Center in Louisiana, and Alamance County Detention Facility in North Carolina
- Completely phase out the use of immigration detention by continuing to terminate contracts, shut down additional facilities and free people from detention
“People must be released back to their community and loved ones as they navigate their immigration case, not just transferred from one fraught detention center to another,” said Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director. “The Etowah County Detention Center exemplifies everything that is wrong with immigration detention and why the detention system must be abolished. The administration can and must do more to completely phase out the use of immigration detention by continuing to terminate contracts, shut down additional facilities and free people from detention.”
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.
Adelante is a non-profit organization that unites low-wage immigrant workers and their families in the Birmingham area to defend our rights, promote our dignity, and pursue justice for all. To learn more and get involved, visit www.adelantealabama.org.
The Shut Down Etowah Campaign is made up of individuals and civil, immigrant, and human rights organizations based in Alabama and across the country that are committed to ending the human rights abuses at the Etowah County Detention Center. We believe Etowah is far too broken to be fixed—the only adequate solution is to close it. Find out more at shutdownetowah.org