An investigation of the use of solitary confinement in New Jersey’s immigration detention centers finds an unnecessarily harsh and unfair system that violates state and international standards. The report “23 Hours in the Box, Solitary Confinement in New Jersey Immigration Detention” is released by New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees*, a coalition of community-based groups that support immigration and detention reform, and NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic.
The investigation examined hundreds of documents from public record requests and found that solitary confinement is applied far too often and far too long to immigrant detainees in New Jersey. Investigators also found an unnecessarily harsh system severely limiting due process and fraught with violations of state regulations and international standards. “This task force has done a good job bringing these complex issues to the forefront. I look forward to working with all of the interested parties to improve the overall system. These complex issues deserve proper attention,” said Assemblywoman Nancy J. Pinkin (D-Middlesex), a sponsor of an Assembly version of a legislation to reform solitary confinement in New Jersey, A. 4510.
“As we continue to advocate for change in the way counties use disciplinary confinement, we need to remind counties and the federal government that immigrant detainees are held on civil violation of immigration laws and that they should not be detained in the first place. We are calling for an end to the use of solitary confinement in immigration detention,” said Alix Nguefack, Program Coordinator for American Friends Service Committee Immigrant Rights Program and the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees.
These initial findings include the analysis of data from hundreds of documents provided by Bergen, Hudson counties and the Department of Homeland Security in response to the investigator’s public records requests. A second set of findings will be published later this year based on Essex County’s recent compliance after six months of repeated refusals to comply with our records requests.
The report also raises serious due process concerns, highlights the civil nature of immigration detention and the noncompliance with state regulation and prison’s hearing procedures related to solitary confinement. “Using solitary confinement on immigrant detainees is an additional affront to the human dignity of people which the state has no legitimate interest in incarcerating. Further after reading the report one can only conclude that the county jails are engaging in torture which is an intrinsic evil,’’ said Kathy O'Leary Region Coordinator for Pax Chisti New Jersey, a region of Pax Christi USA.
Specific recommendations include the renewed call to remove these civil detainees from detention especially from county jails which are designed as short term penal facilities. Interim recommendations include the need to strengthen NJ law, which would further limit the use and duration of solitary confinement, implementing mental health screenings and providing meaningful and authoritative community and state oversight to the county jails.
“In 2015, solitary confinement should not and must not be used without proper justification” said Senator Peter J. Barnes III (D-Middlesex), a prime sponsor of legislation to reform solitary confinement in New Jersey, S. 2588. “There are too many cases where solitary is becoming the default punishment for relatively minor infractions, this is not justice, this is inhumane.”
The research for the report was conducted in New Jersey through open records requests to Hudson, Bergen and Essex County jails. While Bergen and Hudson timely responded to the requests, at the time the report was written, Essex had failed to comply with records requests.
“There are so many reasons not to use solitary confinement: the often permanent mental trauma, the increased violence, the added difficulties prisoners face upon reentry,” said Bonnie Kerness, director of the American Friends Service Committee’s Prison Watch Program. “The isolation and lack of human contact is considered no-touch torture, and for the sake of human rights, civil rights, and political rights, we must abolish it. The report contributes to the growing number of advocate organizations protesting the use isolated confinement.”
* This Coalition includes:
AFSC-Immigrant Rights Program
Casa de Esperanza
Community of Friends in Action
Haiti Solidarity Network
First Friends NY/NJ
Ironbound Community Corporation
Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund
Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ
Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights
Monmouth County Coalition for Immigrant Rights
NJ Association on Correction
NJ Forum for Human Rights
People's Organization for Progress, Bergen County
Reformed Church of Highland Park
Saint Patrick Church
Sisters of Saint Joseph ESL Program
Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of NJ
UU Congregation of Montclair