Rebecca Dickson, Reporter
Northwest Detention Center, the immigration detention center in Tacoma, is facing criticism after a string of accusations of human rights violations.
Prisoners in Northwest Detention Center started a hunger strike on April 10 after making several demands for better conditions.
According to Northwest Detention Center, detainees passed around a letter with their demands.
A translation of the letter reads, “The motive that we write this is to ask you by favor that we all participate united, and on April 10, from noon and on we will not eat, or use the phones, neither will we bunk up on the late night count or lights out. The objective is to reach some changes in the institution.”
According to the NWDC Resistance press release titled “Hunger Strike Continues at Northwest Detention Center as GEO Retaliates With Worsening Food,” people detained at the facility say that the food has worsened over the past few years.
“NWDC has been a frequent target of immigrant activists since a March 2014 hunger strike involving 1,200 detainees first brought international notoriety to the immigration prison,” the statement said. “Trump has staffed his deportation force with openly anti-immigrant officials with links to white supremacist organizations, leaving people detained with little choice but to put their bodies on the line to fight for their basic dignity. Attorney General Jeff Session’s newly release memorandum calling for increased prosecutions of immigrants and their supporters, combined with a roll-out where he referred to immigrants as ‘filth,’ highlights the continued need for local resistance to the federal deportation and detention dragnet.”
According to those detained in NWDC, the food provided doesn’t meet “basic nutritional needs,” and there are hygiene issues such as a lack of clean clothing and no ability to wash clothing in soap and water.
Another call is for better medical attention; GEO group has been accused of not providing medical attention in other prisons in the past.
According to the Delaware County Daily Times article, “A changing of the guard at county prison,” Delaware County, Penn. was forced to change private companies running private prisons due to detainee deaths in George W. Hill Correctional Facility.
“Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project Executive Director Angus Love said he had personally handled two (medical) cases — one involving an inmate with HIV who received ‘virtually no treatment’ during six months of incarceration and another for an inmate who came in with a cast from a freshly broken bone, which was removed by prison staff,” the article said.
In NWDC specifically, there have been other accusations of medical ill attention.
As previously reported in The Puyallup Post article, “Locked Up: Local Immigration Prison Doesn’t Meet National Standards,” “Within 48 hours, staff need to have a completed report, which includes staff members involved , chemical agents used, types of forced use on prisoners, the reason why force was needed to maintain the safety of detainees and staff and the images of injuries sustained in a detainee’s file. However, according to (a) DHS inspection report (in 2014), no files reviewed by DHS contained those reports.”
According to Maru Mora Villalpando, an activist for Undocumented Americans detained in Northwest Detention Center, prison officials have taken steps to fight back against this hunger strike.
“They have threaten(ed) people as they have in other occasions to do the following: sending them to solitary confinement, blocking certain TV channels, placing intravenous, transferring people to other jails in other states, and they did offer chicken for lunch to entice them to stop the strike,” Villalpando said. “We ask the entire community to call City of Tacoma Finance Department Andrew Cherullo, Finance Director at 253-591-5800 and tell them to #RevokeGeoContract because it’s a danger to the public health, safety and welfare of those detained as well as the community as a whole.”
However, the GEO Group is fighting against these accusations. In a commentary published in The News Tribune, “Immigration detention center is misunderstood,” James Black, the Western Regional Office Vice President of the GEO Group said claimed that Northwest Detention Center isn’t as bad as people may think.
“(Northwest Detention Center) complies with guidelines and standards set by leading independent accreditation entities such as the American Correctional Association, which game the center a perfect score of 100 percent,” Black said. “We are proud of our long-standing commitment to be a part of the Tacoma community. We contribute to the local tax base, employ area residents, and give back through annual donations to local scholarships and charitable organizations.”
However, Villalpando disagrees.
“Every time a person decides to stop eating and put their health in danger, it’s an urgent call to action to end the human rights violations they are facing within this immigration prison,” Villalpando said. “Hunger strikes in NWDC have proven to bring light to the infra-humane conditions people detained are facing in order to generate billions of dollars for the private corporations that live off people’s misery, caging them and shattering their families. Public opinion can help end these practices by supporting the leadership of those inside sacrificing themselves for the human dignity.”
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