July 13, 2020

Whistleblowers from Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana  Report Unsafe Practices that Promote  the Spread of COVID-19 in ICE Detention

Government Accountability Project clients urge Congress to address danger to worker, immigrant, and public safety

WASHINGTON – Government Accountability Project sent a letter to Congress outlining concerns from a group of whistleblowers at the Richwood immigration detention facility in Louisiana about hazardous practices that fail to comply with CDC guidelines and promote the spread of COVID-19 among staff, immigrant detainees, and the public at large. They sent the letter to the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Border Security, Facilitation & Operations ahead of their July 13, 2020 hearing, Oversight of ICE Detention Facilities: Examining ICE Contractors’ Response to COVID-19.

The letter details reports from our anonymous clients, who are current or former detention officers at Richwood Correctional Center, which is run by LaSalle Corrections, a private company contracted by DHS Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate immigration detention facilities. Some of their disclosures about gross mismanagement include:

  • Intaking ICE detainees infected with COVID-19 without the CDC-required health and safety equipment or protocols in place by LaSalle;
  • Mixing COVID-19 exposed detainees with healthy detainees and staff during transport on a regular basis;
  • Deporting COVID-19 infected detainees to Central America;
  • Quarantining tuberculosis patients with COVID-19 patients, essentially creating a disease exchange incubator;
  • Concealing information on COVID-19 infections at Richwood, including the refusal to acknowledge the death of two employees;
  • Requiring employees potentially infected with COVID-19 to work while waiting for test results;
  • Requiring employees who were sick, elderly, had pre-existing conditions, or unwilling to risk COVID-19 exposure to use their personal leave or go without pay;
  • Neglecting or having inadequate safety training and testing, including not testing detainees after releasing them from quarantine;
  • Banning the use of protective equipment at Richwood for several weeks after the release of CDC guidelines and after knowingly accepting COVID-19 patients;
  • Failing to sanitize dorms or common areas with mandated frequency.

The disclosures by the new anonymous whistleblowers validate the general concerns of our other clients, Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah “Jody” Rich. Nationally recognized experts in detention health, Drs. Allen and Rich serve as medical subject matter experts for the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) within DHS. . Drs. Allen and Rich raised the alarm internally to DHS in February 2020 and then to Congress in March 2020, warning about the imminent risk to the health and safety of immigrants, staff, and the public posed by the spread of COVID-19 in the congregate setting of ICE detention. Dr. Allen reiterated those warnings at a Senate Judiciary Hearing, Examining Best Practices for Incarceration and Detention During COVID-19, on June 2, 2020.

Government Accountability Project Staff Attorney Samantha Feinstein commented:

“For months, our DHS medical subject matter expert clients raised the alarm about the dangers posed by the spread of COVID-19 in ICE detention. Unfortunately, we have seen the dangers they forewarned manifest, and the problem is only accelerating. Our new detention officer clients are exposing the perilous conditions inside an ICE detention facility where two of their colleagues have already died, likely from exposure at work. They revealed the gross mismanagement that exacerbated the existing dangers posed by congregate settings that create “tinder boxes” for the spread of COVID-19.  The whistleblowers beseech Congress to take  immediate action to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 to workers, immigrants, and the public.”

Contact: Andrew Harman, Director of Communications
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (202) 457-0034 x156

Government Accountability Project

Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.