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Human Rights Watch Calls for Detention Reform to Prevent Sexual Abuse

Days after the ACLU called for additional protections against sexual abuse of immigrant detainees, Human Rights Watch issued a report today demanding Congressional action to improve detention center conditions. The calls come after the Aug. 19 arrest of a former guard at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas, who was accused in May of groping three women on their way to deportation.

Sexual abuse allegations at Hutto were particularly disturbing because the facility was lauded as a symbol of ICE’s year-long detention reform effort, as The Texas Independent pointed out last week. But Human Rights Watch argued they were not an isolated incident, claiming the problem is more widespread than officials realize because detainees are often deported or otherwise unable to report abuse.

ICE already made some steps toward preventing sexual abuse in detention centers after Hutto abuse allegations surfaced in May. Officials plan to publish revised standards for dealing with sexual assault. ICE will also prohibit guards from searching or transporting detainees of the opposite gender. Official policy already bans male staffers from being alone with female immigration detainees — a rule contract guards at Hutto, a Corrections Corporation of America facility, were allegedly breaking. In May, ICE ordered the prison contractor to stop allowing male guards to be alone with female immigrant detainees.

Still, Human Rights Watch argued more reform is needed: Congress should pass legislation mandating certain conditions for immigration detention facilities so the Department of Homeland Security can ensure standards are applicable to all of its facilities, the group argued. At the same time, they said ICE should increase its ability to monitor and respond to sexual abuse within detention facilities, giving the following suggestions for reform:

  • Ensure that reports of sexual abuse are thoroughly investigated.
  • Improve the monitoring of compliance with detention standards by detention facilities.
  • Expedite implementation of the detention standard on preventing and responding to sexual assault and abuse across all facilities holding ICE detainees.
  • Require detention centers to facilitate on-site access for local community providers of support services for sexual assault survivors.
  • Standardize procedures for ensuring access to appropriate relief measures for victims, including release from detention and visas to remain in the United States and assist law enforcement.
  • Require detention facilities to have reasonable suspicion of infractions before conducting pat-down searches of detainees.
  • Ensure that detainees are fully informed about their rights with respect to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment.

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