CREEC and SPLC Send Letter Urging Etowah County Officials to Make Outdoor Recreation Available to ICE Detainees As Part of Jail Renovations

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Civil Rights Groups Urge Etowah County Commission and Sheriff to Include Outdoor Recreation Access in Detention Center Renovations

Holding detained immigrants inside for months, even years without access to fresh air and sunlight may violate their constitutional rights

GADSDEN, Ala. — The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent a letter today to the Etowah County Commission and Etowah County Sheriff, urging officials to include outdoor recreation for immigration detainees in renovation plans for the Etowah County Detention Center (ECDC).

The ECDC, located in Gadsden, Alabama, holds about 300 detained immigrants under a contract with the U.S. Marshals and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies. The existing facility does not provide detainees with access to outdoor recreation, which means that some detainees spend months, or even years, without going outside. Etowah County is considering renovations to the ECDC, but the plans do not appear to include outdoor recreational space.

The lack of outdoor recreational space implicates the due process rights of detainees under the U.S. Constitution, the letter says. “Not only do immigrants detained by ICE have a constitutional right to outdoor recreation while they are held at ECDC, access to physical activity, sunlight, and fresh air is crucial to their well-being,” Tim Fox, co-executive director of CREEC, said. “There is no reason the sheriff and the county cannot make outdoor recreation available to ICE detainees as part of their other changes to the facility.”

ICE’s own Performance Based National Detention Standards state that facilities should provide at least one hour, and preferably at least four hours, of access to outdoor recreation and that detainees in facilities that do not meet this standard may request a voluntary transfer to another detention center.

“The fact that the county would undertake renovations to the Etowah County Detention Center without adding access to outdoor recreation demonstrates their indifference both to the experiences of the immigrants in their custody and to the standards that govern that custody,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the SPLC.

“If the county facility cannot meet ICE’s standards, Etowah County should not be entrusted with detainees, and ICE should place them elsewhere.”

Read a copy of the Letter here.

SPLC and other groups issued a report, Shadow Prisons: Immigrant Detention in the South, on conditions, including this issue at Etowah.

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