An immigrant detainee in solitary confinement died by suicide at Stewart Detention Center in Georgia on Monday, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Detention center staff found Jean Jiménez-Joseph, 27, unresponsive in his cell, ICE said in a press statement. He had been in solitary confinement for nearly three weeks. Emergency medical responders took Jiménez-Joseph to the nearby Phoebe Sumter Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 2:15 a.m.
ICE described the cause of death as “self-inflicted strangulation.” He is the seventh person to die in ICE custody this fiscal year, which began in October.
Jiménez-Joseph, a Panamanian national, was transferred to ICE on March 2 after being released from a North Carolina jail. He had been convicted of larceny of a motor vehicle in January.
Before taking his life, Jiménez-Joseph had spent 19 days in solitary confinement, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was first isolated for jumping off a second-floor walkway, and staff gave him an additional three days in solitary after he exposed himself to a nurse, the paper reports.
An ICE spokesman told HuffPost that Jiménez-Joseph was scheduled to be released back into the general population this week.
Immigrant rights groups have long criticized conditions at Stewart, which is located in the isolated town of Lumpkin, Georgia. Fewer than 2 percent of detainees there won their cases in 2015, according to the Marshall Project, meaning the immigration court located on-site is the hardest one in the country in which to avoid deportation. The center is run as a for-profit enterprise by CoreCivic, the country’s largest private prison contractor.
A report published by Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic this month describes harsh conditions at Stewart, including substandard food, lack of access to attorneys and frequent use of solitary confinement. Dozens of hunger-striking detainees were punished with solitary confinement there last year.
“The suicide of this young immigrant at Stewart is a horrific tragedy that could have been prevented,” Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for Project South, told HuffPost in an email. “As our year-long investigation revealed, conditions at the facility are deplorable and there is lack of adequate access to mental healthcare. Stewart must be shut down immediately.”
The Trump administration is considering relaxing the requirements for jails that hold immigrants, including the specific mandates for suicide prevention, The New York Times reported last month. The current policy requires ICE and detention officers to take certain steps for suicide prevention, such as checking on suicidal inmates every 15 minutes and evaluating their mental health every day. However, new contracts could reportedly require only that jails have a policy on suicide prevention, with no specifics on what it should entail.
Immigrant rights advocates are concerned that inmate health and safety will become even worse under President Donald Trump.
“If ICE is no longer tracking the use of solitary confinement or no longer requiring that people who are in mental health crisis are checked on every 15 minutes, that can kill,” Carl Takei, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, told HuffPost in April.
“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” ICE’s statement says. “Fatalities in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the rate of the U.S. detained population as a whole.”
Elise Foley contributed reporting.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.