Following Detainee Deaths, Critics Question ICE Use Of Private Prisons

May 4, 2013

TUCSON, Ariz. — As authorities continue their investigation into the suicides of two immigrant detainees at a private prison in Arizona, questions are being raised about the government oversight of private detention facilities.

The Corrections Corporation of America runs the Eloy Detention Center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in south-central Arizona. Two Guatemalan detainees killed themselves in the facility, one last Sunday, and then a second on Tuesday afternoon. Law enforcement sources say both immigrants hanged themselves.

In an email, a CCA spokesman said their facilities exceed national detention standards. ICE said it audited the Eloy facility last summer and found it was compliant with the agency’s standards for suicide prevention.

"Two suicides in a week certainly does raise questions," said Alessandra Soler, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Arizona.

She said there has been concerns in the past about ICE’s relationship with private prisons.

ICE officials say they are reviewing the CCA’s policies for staffing and for suicide prevention. ICE says it keeps a full-time medical staff at Eloy and its officers visit the site daily.

Bob Libal is with Grassroots Leadership, an activist group opposed to private prisons. He questioned whether the staffing was adequate at the Eloy facility and he points to a recent lawsuit against CCA in Idaho where the company admitted it had falsified staffing records.

"So I do think that there’s a chronic problem with staffing at some of these facilities,” Libal said.

ICE’s own audit of the facility said a 2011 death was the first one to have ever occurred at Eloy. But a second ICE report contradicts that, saying nine people died at the Eloy facility between 2003 and 2012.

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