Few Charges in CA Migrant Detention Center Abuse

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Since 2017, at least 265 calls to police have reported violence and abuse inside California’s four privately run federal detention centers overseen by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Half the calls alleged sex crimes, including rape, sexual assault and abuse against detainees. The rest reported assault, battery and other threats of violence against detainees and staff. In only three cases in which detainees said they were victimized were suspects charged, the Los Angeles Times reports.  In two of those, suspects were deported before they could be arrested. One case involving two victims — a staff member and a detainee — is pending. Prosecutors were more likely to act when victims worked at the facility. Among 41 calls alleging attacks on staff members, charges were filed in 12 cases. Unlike prisons and jails, people are not in ICE detention for crimes;  they are held while immigration judges decide whether they should be deported. Many are asylum seekers; most have no criminal history.

For years, advocates and detainees have complained about unchecked violence within these facilities. Violence can be perpetuated against detainees with impunity, both by other detainees and facility staff. Detainees were prohibited from calling 911 and were forced to rely on others to report their allegations. Some private detention centers brokered agreements with law enforcement agencies that dictated which crimes officers would respond to. When police intervened, some were discouraged from investigating, prevented from speaking to detainees who had alleged abuse and instructed not to pursue cases they said had merit. Representatives of the companies running ICE facilities in California said they always contact law enforcement to investigate potential criminal allegations and also conduct their own investigations. Troubled by conditions in privately run prisons and detention centers, California leaders banned new contracts after Jan. 1 of this year and ordered existing facilities to close by 2028.

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