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“Endless Nightmare”: Torture and Inhuman Treatment in Solitary Confinement in U.S. Immigration Detention

February 06, 2024 (1 min read)

Physicians for Human Rights, Feb. 6, 2024

"This report – a joint effort by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Harvard Law School’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRCP), and researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) – provides a detailed overview of how solitary confinement is being used by ICE across detention facilities in the United States, and its failure to adhere to its own policies, guidance, and directives. It is based on a comprehensive examination of data gathered from ICE and other agencies, including through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, first filed in 2017, and partly acquired after subsequent litigation. It is further enriched by interviews with 26 people who were formerly held in immigration facilities and experienced solitary confinement over the last 10 years.

The study reveals that immigration detention facilities fail to comply with ICE guidelines and directives regarding solitary confinement. Despite significant documented issues, including whistleblower alarms and supposed monitoring and oversight measures, there has been negligible progress. The report highlights a significant discrepancy between the 2020 campaign promise of U.S. President Joseph Biden to end solitary confinement and the ongoing practices observed in ICE detention. Over the last decade, the use of solitary confinement has persisted, and worse, the recent trend under the current administration reflects an increase in frequency and duration. Data from solitary confinement use in 2023 – though likely an underestimation as this report explains – demonstrates a marked increase in the instances of solitary confinement.

This report exposes a continuing trend of ICE using solitary confinement for punitive purposes rather than as a last resort – in violation of its own directives. Many of the people interviewed were placed in solitary confinement for minor disciplinary infractions or as a form of retaliation for participating in hunger strikes or for submitting complaints. Many reported inadequate access to medical care, including mental health care, during their solitary confinement, which they said led to the exacerbation of existing conditions or the development of new ones, including symptoms consistent with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The conditions in solitary confinement were described as dehumanizing, with people experiencing harsh living conditions, limited access to communication and recreation, and verbal abuse or harassment from facility staff."