ESTANCIA, N.M. (KRQE) – Federal investigators have released the full results of a surprise inspection at the privately owned and operated Torrance County Detention Center in Estancia. Previously, the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General recommended that all inmates be moved elsewhere due to unsatisfactory conditions.
The unannounced visit took place over three days in February 2022. At the time, the federal Office of Inspector General (OIG) set out to determine if the detention center east of Albuquerque, which houses Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees, complies with federal standards. The facility is owned and operated by CoreCivic.
Following the inspection, the OIG released a report In March which recommended ICE immediately remove all detainees. Now, the full inspection results have been released in a report dated September 28, 2022.
Details of the issues
“We identified critical staffing shortages and violations of ICE detention standards that compromised the health, safety, and rights of detainees,” the inspection results note. “Specifically, Torrance did not meet standards for facility conditions, facility security, medical care, use of force, detainee classification, communication between staff and detainees, and access to legal services.”
“Torrance exposed staff and detainees to excessive and avoidable unsanitary conditions,” the report notes. Although not all cells were in use during the inspection, they found that a little over half of the 157 cells inspected had plumbing issues, including clogged toilets or running water. And a review of security video reveals that detainees sometimes used a mop sink for face washing, according to the report.
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Detainees at the facility do have a voice in the matter, as they can make requests to staff, which require a response in three business days. But the inspection found that ICE responded late to about 28% of the requests filed electronically and about 15% of requests made on paper. And the facility did not keep a proper log of the requests, according to the inspection.
The inspection also reveals that “Torrance did not meet standards in the areas of dental care and dental complaints, chronic care, administration of medication, lab test results, and controlled substances.” On a medical note, inspectors also noted issues with COVID-19 protocol at the facility. And the report notes that understaffing is a critical issue at the Torrance County Detention Center, although that’s not a new issue. The report notes that ICE had tried to improve staffing levels multiple times, since December 2020.
On top of staffing and sanitation issues, the OIG inspection found that the facility didn’t keep video footage of use of force incidents as required by the 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards. And, the facility didn’t keep proper classification records of some inmates in order to decide which inmates should be kept where, according to the OIG report.
Some compliance found
While highlighting shortcomings, the inspection report also notes that the facility complies with some measures. For example, the inspection found that detainees did have adequate access to legal rights group presentations and tours from outside groups. Still, a lawyer told inspectors that facility staff limited access to legal phone calls for some inmates, the report notes.
The inspection also showed that the facility did comply with inmate work requirements, including the rule that detainee work schedules not exceed eight hours a day. The inspectors also found that the facility complied with the inmate grievance procedures, which are slightly different from the previously noted requests.
Ultimately, the Office of Inspector General made 14 recommendations to ICE. The report notes that ICE concurred with all 14 recommendations, but as of the end of September 2022, only four of those were resolved.
The report notes that resolving all the issues could take some time. For example, the OIG estimates that it could take until February of next year to get staffing levels up. And getting proper health screenings and screening procedures for detainees could be complete by November 2022.
The OIG continues to recommend the facility move all detainees until all the noted issues are addressed. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has called for the facility to be shut down after the OIG inspection and the ACLU’s own look into public records.