Poor water quality, lack of medical care alleged by ICE detainees at York County Prison

Matt Enright
York Dispatch

As ICE continues to negotiate with York County Prison, an immigrant rights organization has released a report alleging health and safety concerns among detainees, a first salvo in what members say is a campaign to end the deal once and for all.

Dirty laundry, poor water quality and lack of medical attention all plague U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at York County Prison, according to Philadelphia immigration rights organization Juntos, which released the report June 17.

The report, based on interviews with 13 detainees in April 2019, comes as Juntos prepares to advocate against the renewal of the prison's contract with ICE. 

Earlier this year, the York County Prison Board triggered a 120-day window to negotiate a new contract. If a new deal is not reached by Aug. 14, the contract will expire.

York County Prison has held ICE detainees for almost 30 years. As of Friday, York County spokesperson Mark Walters said, the prison held 336 detainees, though he noted that number changes daily. 

York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

More:Interim York County Prison warden named permanent warden

More:Hygiene, cleanliness conditions for ICE detainees in York prison concern advocates

Among the allegations in the report:

  • Four of the detainees mentioned write-ups from a guard, which was not a question asked. The reasons for getting written up included "conspiring," which was defined as being in groups of four or more; helping another detainee with a broken foot; saving food; and asking for more hygiene products. The products are given four times per week.
  • Six of the detainees spoke about medical issues. Fifty percent waited multiple days for medical attention, and at least two medical issues were alleged to have been created by the facility itself. "Everyone who responded noted they waited a minimum of three days to have their medical needs addressed, and one interviewee waited two and a half months and needed a call from his lawyer to be seen by medical staff at York," the report said.
  • Four detainees spoke about their medical experiences at York. One detainee, who is HIV positive, alleged they had received no treatment for the disease.

More:Immigration advocates eye York County as ICE detention facilities close across country

The prison conditions were addressed in a spring 2019 letter to the warden signed by Juntos and other immigrant rights groups. The advocates later toured York County Prison to see the conditions for themselves.

"In the six months between the visit and the meeting, the only noticeable change was the implementation of privacy barriers in the bathrooms (likely due to an upcoming inspection), while the rest of the concerns were largely dismissed and ignored in the meeting," a Juntos news release said. 

When asked about the report, York County Prison Warden Adam Ogle said that he had discussed it with legal counsel and it would not be appropriate to discuss the allegations because of the contract negotiations.

In an interview Friday, York County Commissioner Doug Hoke, who is also president of the prison board, said negotiations were ongoing between ICE and the prison.

Juntos Executive Director Erika Núñez said the organization wanted to tour the facility again but was told by lawyers that the prison was not accepting any public visits during the pandemic. 

"I think the report really outlines what advocates have said for years about detention, that it's inhumane," she said. "There's repeated human rights violations, and that's because detention centers exist to make a profit off the detention of migrants." 

Alix Webb, executive director of Asian Americans United, based in Philadelphia, speaks during the "Free Our Loved Ones" vigil held outside York County Prison in Springettsbury Township, on Human Rights Day, Thursday, Dec. 10, 2020. Organizations including MILPA (Movement of Immigrant Leaders in Pennsylvania), New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, VietLead and Juntos, based in Philadelphia, hosted the event urging officials to release those being detained by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the York Detention Center, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Núñez said Juntos released the report this month knowing the issues cited were from 2019 but that the goal is to begin mobilizing opposition to a new ICE contract. Plans for that campaign are still being determined, she said. 

"It's very much still beginning," Núñez said. 

An ICE official said in an email Friday that the health, welfare and safety of its detainees is one of the agency's highest priorities.

"ICE continues to incorporate CDC’s COVID-19 guidance, which is built upon the already established infectious disease monitoring and management protocols currently in use by the agency," the official said. "In addition, ICE is actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus."