FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 19, 2021

Concerning Results from OSHA Investigation Emphasize Ongoing Dangers from COVID-19 at Irwin County Detention Facility, ICE Detention Generally

WASHINGTON – Today, Government Accountability Project alerted key Congressional offices about the results of an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspection at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), a facility run by private prison company LaSalle Corrections, in Ocilla, Georgia. ICDC held immigrants in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until early September 2021, when ICE severed its contract with ICDC. The OSHA inspection, conducted in December 2020, was prompted by a complaint filed by Government Accountability Project on behalf of a confidential whistleblower regarding the unsafe conditions for both employees and migrants detained at ICDC related to COVID-19.

ICDC has long been rife with reports of limited access to medical care, unsafe work practices, and the absence of adequate protections against COVID-19 for detained migrants and workers alike. Many of these concerns were raised by Government Accountability Project client whistleblower Dawn Wooten in disclosures to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General and Congress in September 2020. While the ICDC no longer holds immigrants in ICE custody, concerns around lack of COVID protections and protocols remain as the private prison continues to hold non-immigrant detainees. The congregate settings of prisons and ICE detention facilities alike are known vectors for the spread of COVID, a virus which does not distinguish between workers, immigrants, or the local communities near detention facilities at risk of severe illness and death.

The OSHA findings show systemic and repeated failures by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), ICE and LaSalle Corrections to address the hazardous conditions at ICDC related to the spread of COVID-19, and reveal flaws in OSHA’s own ability to oversee workers’ health and safety. The OSHA investigation confirms several troubling themes including:

  1. Weaknesses in OSHA’s inspection and citation process expose a lack of meaningful oversight mechanisms available to the thousands of individuals who labor in the ICE detention system, a known source of spread for COVID-19.
  2. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a serious threat to prisoners in ICDC, the individuals who work at ICDC, and the surrounding community.
  3. Findings from OSHA’s recent investigation at ICDC reflect systemic racism in the U.S. immigration system that causes disproportionate harm to Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC).

The concerns raised by the confidential whistleblower and subsequent OSHA inspection reflect a pressing need for a system-wide investigation into the ongoing lack of critical safeguards to combat the spread of COVID-19 to workers, detainees and local communities within and in the proximity of congregate settings such as prisons and ICE detention facilities.

On July 13, 2020, LaSalle leadership testified before Congress that they were complying with all required health protocols. Yet over a year later, OSHA’s investigation and findings prove otherwise.

Samantha Feinstein, Government Accountability Project Staff Attorney and counsel for the confidential whistleblower, stated:

“To our knowledge, the OSHA inspection at the ICDC is the first federal OSHA inspection of an ICE detention facility since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we are pleased that OSHA issued citations and fined LaSalle Corrections, we are also disheartened by the leniency toward LaSalle Corrections and concerned by the many challenges that we encountered during OSHA’s investigation process while representing our client. Two ICDC personnel have died of COVID-19. Many others contracted the virus. The lack of adequate oversight and accountability of ICDC remains a matter of life and death and leaves workers and detainees without any real avenues for redress.”

Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and attorney for the confidential whistleblower, stated:

“OSHA’s failure to meaningfully protect workers at ICDC or other ICE detention facilities from unsafe conditions amounts to a failure to protect immigrants and the public as well. ICE and private prison companies like LaSalle Corrections have repeatedly demonstrated their inability and unwillingness to responsibly care for the workers and the people in their custody even before the dangerous pandemic. We hope that Congress acts with alacrity to address the continued threat posed from COVID-19 and the substandard conditions in ICE detention facilities and to strengthen OSHA’s ability to fulfill its mandate of protecting worker health and safety.”

 

Contact: Andrew Harman, Communications Director
Email: andrewh@whistleblower.org
Phone: (202) 926-3304

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.

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