'Serious' health, safety concerns at immigration detention facility: inspector general

PHOTO: An exterior view of the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif. shown here in 2008. PlayLA Times via Getty Images
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Numerous health risks, poor conditions and safety violations were found at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), detention facility in Orange, California, according to a report released Wednesday.

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The report alleged that food was mishandled, the housing conditions were "unsatisfactory" and that the facility was violating protocols to separate high-risk detainees and low-risk detainees.

An unannounced inspection on Nov. 16, 2016 of the Theo Lacy Facility (TLF) in Orange, California, found issues that "pose health risks" and other violations that "result in potentially unsafe conditions at the facility."

The facility is operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) and houses federal immigration detainees. It has the capacity to house 3,442 males, all with some degree of criminal history. There are currently 528 immigration detainees there, according to ICE.

In the facility's kitchen, the government watchdog identified a host of potential food safety problems.

"Of deepest concern" was the refrigeration units which were we observed to have "slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat that appeared to be spoiled."

"Detainees reported being repeatedly served lunch meat that smelled and tasted bad, which they rinsed with water before eating," said the report.

The inspector general found moldy and mildewed shower stalls, refuse in cells and inoperable phones.

"Because of concerns raised during the inspection, we recommended that ICE take immediate action to ensure compliance," wrote Inspector General John Roth in a letter.

The inspection also found that the facility was not complying with the ICE detainee classification process, which requires that facilities implement a system to classify detainees based on past criminal convictions, including immigration violations, and other security risk factors.

Detainees of all risk levels were housed in the barracks, against policy specifying that facilities may not mingle low-risk and high-risk detainees, said the report.

The report recommended that ICE ensure the facility is following the U.S. Department of Agriculture safe food handling guidelines, undertake a full review and inspection of the Theo Lacy Facility and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department’s management of the facility and develop a comprehensive oversight plan for the facility to ensure compliance.

ICE concurred with all three of the recommendations made by the inspector general.

"The top to bottom inspection identified several compliance issues related to bathroom cleanliness, food storage, and detainee phone access, all of which were promptly remedied. The OIG also voiced concern that detainee grievances were not being tracked to ensure adequate follow-up. In response, ICE met with onsite supervisory personnel at the facility and provided guidance regarding the appropriate method for documenting and addressing detainee complaints, including verbal grievances," a spokesperson for ICE said in a statement.

The sheriff’s office said it had "reviewed the report" after receiving it today and all concerns alleged by the inspector general "have been addressed."

Alex Stone contributed to this story.

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