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O.C. immigration facility called one of 10 worst in nation

A report alleges inadequate medical care, recreation and nutrition at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange. The Sheriff's Department disputes the allegation.

November 15, 2012|By Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times
  • Detention Watch Network's report names the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange one of the country's 10 worst immigration detention facilities. Cmdr. Steve Kea of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which runs Theo Lacy, disputes the ranking as largely based on anecdotal evidence.
Detention Watch Network's report names the Theo Lacy Facility in… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

A report released Thursday by Detention Watch Network names an Orange County immigration detention facility as one of the 10 worst in the country.

The group, which advocates reforming the U.S. immigration detention system, is calling on President Obama to close the 10 facilities. In addition to the Theo Lacy Facility in the city of Orange, they are Pinal County Jail in Arizona, two facilities in Texas, two in Georgia and one each in Florida, Alabama, Illinois and New Jersey.

The report alleges that all 10 facilities provide inadequate medical care, recreation and nutrition. As the number of deportations has grown, so has the number of detainees held behind bars while fighting their immigration cases. About 33,300 immigration detainees were housed in U.S. facilities on an average day in 2011, compared with just under 28,000 in 2007.

"The appalling conditions in jails and prisons that house immigrants have reached a tipping point," said Andrea Black, executive director of Detention Watch Network, in a conference call with reporters. "People continue to suffer in conditions that are an affront to human dignity."

Cmdr. Steve Kea of the Orange County Sheriff's Department, which runs Theo Lacy, disputes the ranking as largely based on anecdotal evidence. The facility is inspected regularly by federal authorities and receives high marks, Kea said.

The Sheriff's Department houses about 475 male immigration detainees at Theo Lacy and an additional 320 or so detainees, both male and female, at the James A. Musick Facility. The federal government pays the sheriff $118 a day for each detainee.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the report was based on "anecdotal" accounts that are hard to verify, and that pre-date significant reforms.

"ICE stands behind the significant work we've done reforming the detention system by increasing federal oversight, improving conditions of confinement and prioritizing the health and safety of the individuals in our custody," ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a written statement.

According to the report, staff members at Theo Lacy have used racial slurs against detainees and have engaged in abusive behavior, including kicking detainees' feet to wake them in the morning and throwing detainees' lunches on the ground.

The report alleges that authorities at Theo Lacy punished detainees using solitary confinement. It cites several instances in which detainees allegedly did not receive needed medical care. Some meals are described in the report as "moldy," "frozen" and lacking fruits and vegetables.

In 2009, Orange County's troubled jail system became the target of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation amid inmate violence and allegations that guards used Tasers on handcuffed or restrained inmates.

Five former Theo Lacy inmates were recently convicted of beating another inmate to death while the nearest guard watched television and sent text messages.

Kea said grievances submitted by detainees are investigated and receive a response, he said.

"I'm not saying there's no room for improvement, but the top 10 ranking is not warranted on anything other than their agenda and anecdotal evidence," he said.

cindy.chang@latimes.com

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