Private companies operating ICE detention centers promise Congress to work to stop spread of COVID-19

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WASHINGTON – Leaders of four of the largest private prison companies operating immigrant detention centers promised members of Congress on Monday that their employees are all required to wear face masks and will stay home from work if they are sick , like the number of COVID-19 cases among detained immigrants, there have been 3,000 recently

Executives from CoreCivic, Groupe Geo, Société de gestion et de formation (MTC) and LaSalle Corrections responded to allegations that they were not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus in the facilities they operate under an immigration and customs enforcement contract.

Prior to the hearing, two whistleblowers from the Richwood Correctional Center, a LaSalle correctional facility in Richwood, Louisiana, submitted a letter to the House Homeland Security Committee alleging that the management of the institution had not done enough to protect staff or inmates of the virus. Whistleblowers are represented by lawyers from the Government Accountability Project, a national whistleblower protection organization.

The two whistleblowers, who work or have worked inside Richwood Institution in LaSalle, said that staff were discouraged from wearing masks in April, even after the first inmate tested positive for COVID-19.

One of the whistleblowers said that the director of Richwood had told staff not to wear masks in early April, even after one of the detainees tested positive. The director said it “would cause” hysteria “among the detainees,” said the whistleblower.

“There is a lot of mental and physical stress,” said another whistleblower, adding that many Richwood workers were concerned about infecting family members.

According to the ICE, 65 inmates from Richwood Institution tested positive. The ICE does not report the number of employees hired by contractors infected with COVID-19, but whistleblowers and other media have reported that two staff at Richwood Institution died from the virus.

LaSalle Correctional Service did not respond to a request for comment on the allegations. The company’s executive director, Rodney Cooper, said on Monday that the company was updating its protocols regularly and issuing guidelines since the start of the pandemic.

An inmate who passed through a LaSalle immigrant processing center in Jena, Louisiana, and is part of a lawsuit before the Federal Court by the ACLU, said he had not been properly protected against the virus during its transit between three establishments on June 29 and 30. .

“In Jena, I was barely there 24 hours. But I saw that many of the staff were not wearing masks, “said the complainant, Stephen Brown, in court documents. “I was particularly surprised to see the nurse distributing drugs not wearing her mask. She called me … I had my mask. I asked why she was not wearing her mask. She said she read that the CDC said that masks don’t protect you, so she doesn’t wear them. She also said that social estrangement does not help. ”

Brown’s trial calls for the release of migrants detained by the ICE during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Samantha Feinstein, one of the lawyers representing the Richwood whistleblowers, urged Congress to take steps to ensure better conditions at the ICE facilities operated by federal contractors.

“Whistleblowers present themselves at substantial personal risk, but these whistleblowers feel compelled to speak out because workers and inmates die in Richwood; it will only get worse if things do not change immediately, ”she said.

Democrats on the committee asked Damon Hininger, president and chief executive officer of CoreCivic, if the company is investigating allegations of hazardous conditions at the company’s facilities in Eloy, Arizona.

NBC News reported that almost half of the staff were positive in the facility and more than 240 immigrants in a facility with an average daily population of 1,100 people also contracted the virus.

Hininger said: “If it is appropriate that we need to modify or modify our processes, we would do so in real time and will not wait for an investigation. “

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