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Watchdog report finds COVID-19 safety protocols not enforced at Pulaski County jail

Watchdog report finds COVID-19 safety protocols not enforced at Pulaski County jail

By SARAH MANSUR
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

SPRINGFIELD — An unannounced inspection by federal authorities of the Pulaski County Detention Center found that supervisors were not enforcing COVID-19 safety protocols, such as masking and social distancing requirements, for inmates being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The jail in Pulaski County, which is in the southernmost part of Illinois and borders Kentucky, houses inmates from Pulaski and Alexander counties, as well as individuals who are arrested by ICE and face deportation.

The facility is one of three jails that ICE has contracts with in Illinois. Jails in McHenry and Jefferson counties also house ICE detainees.

As of September 2020, the Pulaski County jail had an average daily population of about 107 inmates, and it housed 113 ICE inmates, as of November 2020.

The inspection, conducted from November 2020 to January 2021, found the facility violated five ICE detention standards “that threatened the health, safety, and rights of detainees,” according to the report issued April 29 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General.

According to the report, supervisors at the Pulaski County facility “did not consistently enforce precautions including use of facial coverings and social distancing, which may have contributed to repeated COVID-19 transmissions at the facility.”

As of May 5, the Pulaski facility reported 114 total cases of COVID-19, zero deaths and two active COVID-19 cases, according to data from ICE.

The report provides images from video surveillance footage showing inmates gathered in groups, not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, and detainees and staff in close proximity not wearing or improperly wearing masks.

The investigation also found the facility was not providing a color-coded visual identification system based on the criminal history of detainees that is required by ICE detention standards.

The lack of a color-coded system can result in inadvertent commingling of a detainee with significant criminal history with detainees who had no criminal history, the report states.

The report also documents the facility lacked emergency dental services and that the medical unit did not have procedures in place for chronic care follow-up.

In addition, it found that the facility was not consistently providing required oversight for detainees in segregation by conducting routine wellness checks.

The report further documented deficiencies in staff communication practices with detainees.

“Specifically, ICE did not specify times for staff to visit detainees and could not provide documentation that it completed facility visits with detainees during the pandemic,” the report sates.

In March, the National Immigrant Justice Center raised some of these issues at the Pulaski County facility in a federal civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

The NIJC’s complaint, which was filed on behalf of three ICE detainees at the Pulaski facility, asks the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to investigate claims of medical neglect and poor conditions at the facility.

One of the detainees represented by NIJC is a 61-year-old with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure, who was diagnosed with COVID-19. He contracted a bone infection in his leg and will need to have his leg amputated due to the infection.

This 61-year-old inmate said he was afraid to have this procedure done while still in detention because of the poor conditions at the facility.

Representatives from the Pulaski County Detention Center did not respond to requests for comment.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

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