Crime & Justice

Watchdog cites spoiled food, unsafe conditions for immigrant detainees in Orange County jail

An Orange County Sheriff's deputy keeps a watch over a group of immigration detainees in the medical and dental care area at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010. Hundreds of detained immigrants are being transferred to Orange County jails, and more are on the way, under a deal with the federal government that would bring the cash-strapped Orange County Sheriff's Department up to $30 million a year, a newspaper reported Sunday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
An Orange County Sheriff's deputy keeps a watch over a group of immigration detainees in the medical and dental care area at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 28, 2010. Hundreds of detained immigrants are being transferred to Orange County jails, and more are on the way, under a deal with the federal government that would bring the cash-strapped Orange County Sheriff's Department up to $30 million a year, a newspaper reported Sunday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/AP

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The inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security found a slew of health and safety problems facing immigration detainees held at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange, which is operated by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. 

During a surprise visit in November, federal inspectors found that detainees were being served apparently spoiled lunch meat, showering in moldy stalls and unable to use telephones because many were broken or had volume problems, according to a report the internal government watchdog issued this week.

Inspectors also found detainees with serious criminal records were being housed in low-security barracks, and immigrants with minor or no criminal records were being housed together with serious criminals. Both violate Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention standards.

The inspectors also found that detainees placed in solitary confinement for violating jail rules were held for 24-hour periods with no recreation or access to visitors, also in violation of ICE policies.  

The report concluded that ICE didn't track grievances from detainees and did nothing to make sure they had been resolved. The report noted that ICE had no access to a database of grievances from detainees that is maintained by a private contractor. 

Currently, 528 immigrants are detained at the jail, according to ICE.

Moldy, mildewed shower stalls observed by investigators for the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security on Nov. 16, 2016.
Moldy, mildewed shower stalls observed by investigators for the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security on Nov. 16, 2016.
Department of Homeland Security

In a statement, ICE said it had resolved the bathroom, food and phone problems. The agency also stated that it had met with jail supervisors to instruct them on how to properly document and address detainee complaints. 

The sheriff’s department said in a statement that all concerns raised in the report had been addressed and that the department "remains committed to the health and safety of all immigration detainees housed at our Theo Lacy and James A. Musick facilities,” both of which are under ICE contract.

Detention Watch Network, a nonprofit that monitors conditions at immigration holding facilities, noted some of the same problems at Theo Lacy in a 2012 report. In a follow-up in 2013, the group said many problems had not been remedied despite ICE assurances that they had.