Jail run by Democrats is even too cruel for ICE | Editorial

Updated Jun 17, 2019

Here’s how bad things have gotten at a local jail in Essex County, New Jersey:

Even the federal agency that oversees U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement under President Trump believes it’s acting inhumanely.

This lockup, run by Essex County Executive Joe DiVincenzo, has been making big money warehousing immigrants for the feds – tens of millions of dollars annually, to offset local property taxes.

Yet after advocates reported it was treating them cruelly, the inspector general for ICE investigated – and also found “egregious violations.”

In February, we learned that jail staff was feeding immigrants rotting food, depriving them of outdoor space and failing to report serious safety lapses, according to investigators for ICE.

And now, we’re learning that the cruelty behind these walls is even worse.

According to a new report by the same federal inspectors, guards have been strip-searching and handcuffing the immigrants for no reason, and throwing them into solitary without so much as a hearing to see if they’ve done anything wrong. This is outrageous.

As the OIG noted, these people are in civil, not criminal, detention, which is “not supposed to be punitive.” It is supposed to ensure they show up to court, not suffer degrading or horrible treatment.

And all this has been happening under the noses of state Democrats, who profess to oppose Trump’s cruelty on immigration.

Nobody wants to call out “Joe D.”

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Let’s be clear: Solitary is torture. It is locking people into a cell roughly the size of a custodial closet, and feeding them through a slot, until they pound the walls and shriek.

Guards don’t just do this to those who pose a safety risk. They do it to people they’re mad at, even over the pettiest offense, or to the mentally ill.

In 2016, legal advocates from New York University’s School of Law reported that Essex County jail was throwing immigrants into solitary for weeks at a time, for anything from damaging a jail-issued identification bracelet to going on a hunger strike to protest the food.

Now, the inspector for ICE says this jail was giving them no more than a single hour a day outside their cells, to shower or call an attorney. Even for an agency that arrests and deports grandpas, that’s too cruel.

It’s yet another reason why our Legislature must finally pass a bill, vetoed by former Gov. Chris Christie, to set strict limits on the use of solitary. Any time people are locked away, there’s an inherent potential for abuse.

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In the meantime, this rogue jail clearly needs outside oversight. And Joe D is not the man to do it.

His spokesman argues that all these violations, uncovered by the OIG during surprise inspections last year, have since been rectified.

But at this point, only a fool would believe them. They have covered up violations in the past, and lied about their knowledge of them. Why trust them now?

Unlike other jails, Essex refused to turn over its records on solitary to the NYU legal team until it was finally forced to in 2016. And it appears that few, if any real reforms were made before the OIG’s surprise visits.

Prior to the publication of its reports, DiVincenzo repeatedly assured us that there was nothing to see here, that this jail is America’s finest.

No joke: Mere days after flunking an OIG inspection, Joe D enlisted his deputy, Phil Alagia, to tell us he had “by far the best correctional facility in the state of New Jersey and in the United States of America.”

This is the man DiVincenzo awarded a whopping $45k raise, ostensibly to supervise these jailed immigrants. Now that Sarah Huckabee Sanders is departing the White House, is there anyone in America better qualified to fill her position?

Their behavior has been inexcusable. The Department of Corrections must step up its inspections of this jail, and the county freeholders should establish a civilian review board with real supervisory power over it.

But that’s not enough. The Attorney General should investigate, too, and if it is not in his power to do so, then the Legislature must fix that.

This jail is violating people’s civil rights, which isn’t just a crime against morality. It creates serious liability issues. Middlesex county just paid out more than $100k after the ACLU of New Jersey sued over its inhumane use of solitary.

America’s best jail could be next, if entrusted to the hands of Joe D.

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