Advocacy group calls on Obama to stop housing detainees at Kearny jail
on November 15, 2012 at 4:10 PM, updated November 15, 2012 at 7:54 PM
In a report titled "Expose and Close," Detention Watch Network named the Kearny facility as one of the 10 in the country that houses federal immigration detainees. The nine others cited in the report are in Alabama, Texas, Florida, Arizona and Illinois.
"Conditions at these facilities have gotten so bad the only option is to shut them down," said Andrea Black, the group’s executive director.
The Hudson jail has been housing detainees on behalf of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency since 1995 and receives $111 per inmate, according to the report. In an interview earlier this year, Hudson County spokesman Jim Kennelly said there were roughly 435 ICE detainees among the jail’s 2,100 inmate population.
Hudson County receives about $16 million a year to housing immigration detainees, Kennelly said.
In its report, Detention Watch Network claimed several detainees at the Hudson facility have been denied access to medical care for serious conditions including HIV and bi-polar disorder. Guards at the jail also routinely refer to immigration detainees as "animals," curse at them and trash their possessions, according to the report.
On the national level, the group wants the Obama administration to stop housing immigration detainees in privately run prisons and county jails, a move Black argues has turned the work of housing immigration detainees into a for-profit business that generates roughly $1.7 billion in revenue each year.
The Detention Watch report is the latest in a series of scandals involving New Jersey correctional facilities this year. Over the summer, a series of New York Times reports revealed a secret world of abuse and violence inside privately run halfway houses in Essex and Mercer counties.
In February, the Passaic County jail also entered into a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union after it filed a class-action lawsuit calling for large-scale reforms at the facility. The complex, which also was once used to house federal detainees, has been under scrutiny since 2008 when a federal judge began commuting sentences of inmates housed there because conditions at the jail had become deplorable.
Kennelly did not offer additional comment, but a representative for ICE scoffed at the report, saying the agency has dramatically improved conditions at immigrant holding facilities over the past several years.
"ICE is in the process of fully reviewing the reports. However, it is disappointing that the reports appear to be built primarily on anonymous allegations that cannot be investigated or substantiated, and many second hand sources and anecdotes that pre-date the agency’s initiation of detention reform," spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez wrote in a statement. "ICE stands behind the significant work we’ve done reforming the detention system by increasing federal oversight, improving conditions of confinement and prioritizing the health and safety of the individuals in our custody."
In a prepared statement, Hudson County officials said they provide adequate food and medical attention to all inmates at the facility, also noting that corrections officers professional development training each year so they can better address detainees' concerns.
First Friends, a community group interested in the rights of those incarcerated in Hudson County, also have daily access to the facility and are available to receive inmate complaints, Kennelly said.