Three years after the death of Chinese immigrant Hiu Lui Ng at the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, a bill is making its way through Congress that would require the reporting of prison deaths. From the Los Angeles Times:
Legislation that would make it more difficult to cover up the causes of
deaths in jails, prisons and private detention centers appears poised to
pass Congress after years of unreported abuse, particularly in
facilities housing immigration detainees.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee
approved the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which would make it
mandatory for all public and private prisons, jails and boot camps to
report deaths and their causes to the Justice Department. The measure has already passed the House with bipartisan support.
The attorney general would be
required to analyze and publish a report within two years of the law's
enactment on what caused the deaths, something American Civil Liberties Union
legislative counsel Jesselyn McCurdy said she hoped would shed more
light on cases in which medical and administrative personnel are more
concerned about saving money than saving lives.
The law "would make it more difficult to cover up the causes of deaths
in custody — they can't be brushed off as death from natural causes or
suicide as easily," McCurdy said.
Since October 2003, at least 124 low-security, "short-term" detainees have died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Advocates point to the 2007 death of Boubacar Bah, 52, after a
nine-month fight against deportation, as an example of the problem.
According to the internal memos of a private detention facility run by Corrections Corp. of America in Elizabeth, N.J., Bah, who was from Guinea, was found writhing in his cell after falling and fracturing his skull a little before 9 a.m. one day.
He reportedly moaned, vomited and grabbed at medical personnel, but was
transferred not to a hospital but to a solitary cell. The same signs of
distress prompted guards to call for medical attention again at 7 and 8
p.m., but by the time an ambulance picked him up at 10:50 p.m. and took
him to a hospital, he had entered a coma that lasted four months, until
Documents show that during Bah's coma, prison officials considered
transferring him to Guinea before he could die to save money and avoid
media attention. When it became apparent there were not sufficient
medical facilities in Guinea for the transfer, Immigration and Customs
Enforcement recommended that he be given legal status so that the agency
would no longer be responsible for his medical bills.
The ACLU and the New York Times sued under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain records on Bah and others like him.
ACLU immigration lawyer Joanne Lin said she didn't think she'd had her
last fight to uncover such detailed information about detainee deaths.
Federal authorities were supposed to be reporting deaths to the Justice
Department during the entire time the ACLU was suing for documents.
"We don't think it's a panacea, but it will still improve government
accountability and transparency in the Justice Department about more
facilities, and that's certainly something. It will close a few
loopholes," Lin said about the new legislation.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said all immigration detention centers had more oversight since 2009.
"ICE has taken aggressive steps to increase oversight through announced
and unannounced inspections, regular facility visits from ICE staff and
by hiring more than 40 detention services managers, who work to ensure
appropriate conditions exist at detention facilities," Christensen said.