FJA Shortlist 2021

Category: Contribution to Civil Rights

Authors: John Washington, José Olivares

Series of articles

“A Silent Pandemic”: Nurse at Ice Facility Blows the Whistle on Coronavirus Dangers

The original publication is available via the following link: https://theintercept.com/2020/09/14/ice-detention-center-nurse-whistleblower/ 

The Intercept - September 14 2020

By José Olivares and John Washington

Irwin Detention Center, run by LaSalle Corrections, has refused to test detainees and underreported Covid-19 cases, the nurse says.

A nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia is speaking out about a host of dangerous medical practices at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The whistleblower, Dawn Wooten, says that Irwin, which is run by the private corporation LaSalle Corrections, has underreported Covid-19 cases, knowingly placed staff and detainees at risk of contracting the virus, neglected medical complaints, and refused to test symptomatic detainees, among other dangerous practices. On September 8, Wooten submitted a letter detailing her complaints to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, with the help of attorneys from the Government Accountability Project. The grim situation inside the facility reflects what she called “a silent pandemic” running rampant behind the prison bars.

“You don’t want to see what you’re seeing,” Wooten told The Intercept. “You’re responsible for the lives of others,” but Irwin management, in her eyes, downplayed the threat of the virus from the start.

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“He Just Empties You All Out”: Whistleblower Reports High Number of Hysterectomies at ICE Detention Facility

The Intercept - September 15 2020

By José Olivares and John Washington

“People ask you why I got a hysterectomy. I couldn’t explain it. The only thing I have to say is that I’m sorry.”

A whistleblower compaint filed this week with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General alleges that high rates of hysterectomies — sometimes without what the complaint called “proper informed consent” — have been performed on women detained in a privately owned immigration jail in Georgia.

The complaint, filed by the human rights group Project South, quoted a detainee from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Irwin County Detention Center saying that five women who had the procedure between October and December 2019 had told her that they “reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.” Multiple women claimed that they did not have access to proper interpreters and that medical staff often did not speak Spanish.

The accounts in Project South’s complaint — which included that of the whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a licensed practical nurse at the facility — were consistent with accounts given in separate interviews conducted by The Intercept with three other current detainees at the facility, eight advocates for detainees at the prison, and a former Irwin employee, all of whom requested anonymity for fear of reprisals against themselves and their clients.

“Everybody he sees has a hysterectomy — just about everybody,” Wooten, who is being represented as a whistleblower by Project South and the Government Accountability Project, explained in the complaint. “I’ve had several inmates tell me that they’ve been to see the doctor, and they’ve had hysterectomies, and they don’t know why they went or why they’re going.”

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ICE Medical Misconduct Witness Slated for Deportation Is a U.S. Citizen, Says Lawyer

The Intercept - November 2, 2020

By José Olivares and John Washington

In recent weeks, after Alma Bowman became a key witness for medical misconduct at an immigration jail, ICE moved to deport her.

Alma Bowman, a 54-year-old woman in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, was scheduled for deportation on Monday. For over two years, Bowman has been held at Georgia’s Irwin County Detention Center, the site of growing concern about medical neglect and coerced gynecological procedures performed on nearly 60 women. She has been a key witness, for attorneys and journalists, of a doctor performing the allegedly unnecessary or overly aggressive procedures.

She is also a U.S. citizen, according to her lawyer and documentation reviewed by The Intercept.

“I’m just scared,” Bowman told The Intercept about her potential deportation. “I always had this fear that I’ll lose touch with my family.”

Though she was ordered removed from the country on June 4, ICE only took action to begin her deportation in the last few weeks — after the public became aware of allegations of medical misconduct at Irwin. Following the initiation of deportation proceedings against her, a lawyer finally began reviewing documents for Bowman’s immigration case and realized that she had documentation indicating her U.S. citizenship.

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ICE Detention Center Shuttered Following Repeated Allegations Of Medical Misconduct

The Intercept - May 20, 2020

By José Olivares and John Washington

Immigrant women held at the private prison alleged a pattern of medical procedures, including hysterectomies, without proper consent.

The Department of Homeland Security announced on Thursday the agency will be shutting down the controversial immigration prison in Georgia where dozens of detained immigrant women were subjected to nonconsensual gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies.

The memo, sent by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, instructs U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to terminate the contract with the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia, according to the Washington Post, along with another detention center in Massachusetts. Both facilities are under federal investigation for detention practices.

“This victory, brought about through years of organizing and exposing the abuses, is momentous,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South, a civil rights organization based in Atlanta.

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