August 11, 2022

Government Accountability Project Applauds Senate Judiciary Committee Members’ Letter to ICE Regarding Overuse of Solitary Confinement

On August 1, 2022, Senator Dick Durbin, along with several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a second letter to Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Tae D. Johnson, pressing Acting Director Johnson for answers regarding ICE’s misuse of solitary confinement. This letter follows repeated demands for accountability from ICE after a 2021 report of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) found failures by ICE to collect, retain and report data about its use of solitary confinement and called for enhanced oversight of segregation used in ICE detention facilities.

The systemic audit by the DHS OIG and the resulting report in 2021 were spurred by the whistleblower disclosures of Government Accountability Project’s client, Ellen Gallagher. Beginning in 2014, Ms. Gallagher, then with the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), sounded the alarm internally around ICE’s widespread misuse and overuse of solitary confinement, particularly on medically vulnerable and mentally ill detainees. Ms. Gallagher’s pleas for oversight, which were elevated to then DHS Deputy Secretary Mayorkas, were largely met with silence until she made her whistleblowing public in 2019. The resulting OIG audit and report validated Ms. Gallagher’s disclosures first raised seven years prior. Since Ms. Gallagher publicly shared her whistleblower disclosures, she and her counsel at Government Accountability Project have been advocating strenuously for oversight of ICE’s use of solitary confinement, including in written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Committee’s letter to Johnson, a second demand for information following Johnson’s response to a February 2022 letter from the Committee states, in part: “Your letter described how ICE uses a record-keeping system to track the usage of solitary confinement for a subset of detainees once they are placed in solitary confinement but does not explain what, if anything, ICE does to consider alternatives ahead of time. You also promised a policy update that will better ensure that ICE’s record-keeping system tracks all detainees placed in solitary confinement, but you have not explained how ICE plans to ensure that alternatives to solitary confinement are in fact considered or what those alternatives are.”

Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel, and attorney for Ellen Gallagher, stated:

“We welcome the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ongoing efforts to conduct oversight into ICE’s overuse and misuse of solitary confinement in DHS custody. The harm inflicted by solitary confinement cannot be understated; the United Nations and other human rights bodies have classified it as torture. For years, as our client Ellen Gallagher has decried, ICE has used solitary confinement—on civil detainees no less—as its first resort against its own directives. We call on the Senate Judiciary Committee to continue its demands for accountability and urge all Members of Congress to support the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act which would end the use of Solitary Confinement by ICE.”

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 202.926.3304

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.