Monday, May 5, 2008

Immigration, Incarceration and Death

Disturbing look at the high number of deaths per capita in our hodge-podge system of immigrant incarceration throughout the U.S.

Few Details on Immigrants Who Died in U.S. Custody:

66 deaths occurred in immigration custody from January 2004 to November 2007, when nearly a million people passed through.

The list, compiled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after Congress demanded the information, and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, is the fullest accounting to date of deaths in immigration detention, a patchwork of federal centers, county jails and privately run prisons that has become the nation’s fastest-growing form of incarceration.

Death is a reality in any jail, and the medical neglect of inmates is a perennial issue. But far more than in the criminal justice system, immigration detainees and their families lack basic ways to get answers when things go wrong.
The article then focuses on a couple of examples, including the case of Boubacar Bah, who died in a private prison while held under federal custody, and whose death was recorded as "unresponsive" by corrections officials.
Corrections Corporation of America[...] runs the New Jersey detention center for the federal government.

When an ambulance left Mr. Bah at the hospital, brain scans showed he had a fractured skull and hemorrhages at all sides of his swelling brain. He was rushed to surgery, and the detention center was informed of the findings.

But in a report to their supervisors the next day, immigration officials at the center described Mr. Bah’s ailment as “brain aneurysms” — a diagnosis they corrected a week later to “hemorrhages,” without mentioning the skull fracture. After Mr. Bah’s death, they wrote that his hospitalization was “subsequent to a fall in the shower.”

The nurse, Mr. Dela Pena, and the physician assistant, Mr. Chuley, said that only their superiors could discuss the case. The Public Health Service did not respond to questions, and the Corrections Corporation said medical decisions were the responsibility of the Public Health Service.

Beyond the need to put more oversight on the private corporations making millions off incarceration in this country, this article points up the pitfalls of the archipelago-like system in place to deal with the very real problem of immigration violations and enforcement.

Centralizing this carceral system may be more politically controversial (such as mass detention centers), but at least we would have a better accounting of who's who and what basic medical needs they may require.

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