Unhealthy Conditions Lead to Lawsuit Against Troubled Maryland Detention Center

A detention center in Maryland has come under intense scrutiny after a group of current and former detainees filed a lawsuit alleging unsanitary, crowded, and otherwise unsafe conditions. The privately-owned center houses hundreds of immigrants awaiting hearings or deportation. However, detainees say poor standards of care and abuse by guards have left the facility severely lacking compared to other detention sites.

Background on the Maryland Detention Center

The center in question is located about 40 miles outside of Baltimore and is operated by Corrections Corporation of Nexus (CCN). The company runs over a dozen immigrant detention facilities around the country on contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Maryland site was opened in 2015, not long after CCN won the contract for that region. The medium-sized facility houses around 350-400 adult male and female detainees at any given time. Most stays range from a few months to over a year as detainees await immigration hearings and determinations.

Who Filed the Lawsuit and Why

This January, a group of 11 former detainees joined with three individuals still housed at the center to lodge a formal complaint. The American Immigration Lawyers Association helped prepare the suit on their behalf.

The detainees describe enduring horribly cramped quarters, bathrooms covered in mold and filth, lack of access to clean clothing or bedding, and negligent medical care. Most disturbingly, many experienced or witnessed violence and excessive use of force from guards and other staff members.

One plaintiff, a woman identified only as Delores K. in court documents, spent eight months at the center last year while appealing a rejected asylum case. She shared a small room with three other detainees, with little space even to walk. Accessing restrooms required long walks down dirty hallways only to encounter bathrooms piled high with used sanitary products and feces. She seldom received clean uniforms or linens. At one point, the crowded conditions likely contributed to a lice outbreak that affected many detainees, but saw little response from staffers.

Delores also testifies that guards would frequently threaten detainees for minor offenses or even fabricate violations leading to stint in solitary confinement. “No one felt safe there,” she said.

Key Allegations Against the Maryland Detention Center

The nearly 50-page initial complaint goes into exhaustive detail regarding the poor conditions the detainees experienced. The suit alleges gross negligence, unsafe conditions, violations of rights protections, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Specifically, it points to:

  • Overcrowding leading to disease transmission and lack of sleeping space
  • Moldy, unsanitized bathrooms without functional locks
  • Failure to provide clean clothing and bedding
  • No minimum access to recreation time and outdoor activities
  • Unappetizing, spoiled, inadequate food portions
  • Deliberate restriction of religious freedoms
  • Severe understaffing of medical professionals leading to lack of care
  • Ignoring or dismissing mental health concerns
  • Excessive use of force, threats, verbal abuse

So far, these complaints originate from the 14 detainees attached to the lawsuit. However, their affidavits suggest such conditions are widespread throughout the facility impacting hundreds of additional individuals as well.

How the Maryland Detention Center Has Responded

CCN, which operates the center on a contractual basis with ICE, has largely dismissed the lawsuit as bringing forth exaggerated claims. A company representative contended that strict contract guidelines, plus third-party auditors prevent such egregious violations from being standard practice. The spokesperson further highlighted staff training procedures aimed at minimizing use of force incidents and supporting mental health needs.

Since the lawsuit was filed, the center has reportedly added new guards and medical personnel. Workers have also repaired mold issues in bathrooms, increased recreation time outdoors, and provided new bedding and linens. However, CCN maintains that detainees have always received three sufficient, nutritious meals daily.

As far as preventing transmission of communicable diseases, the company stated that crowded conditions do not necessarily violate safety standards outlined in their ICE agreement. But additional testing is being done to monitor for illness outbreaks.

What Comes Next for the Lawsuit and the Facility

Currently, the class action civil suit remains in opening discovery stages. However, CCN has moved to dismiss the majority of claims as lacking factual merits. Further, its legal team argues that all detainees receive adequate due process to contest individual deportation and asylum cases.

Yet, immigration advocacy organizations point out that many detainees – especially those who don’t speak English – lack understanding to navigate the complex appeals system effectively without outside help. Lengthy detention only exacerbates mental health strain and poor living conditions.

Moving forward, the plaintiffs must demonstrate systematically deficient standards of care and oversight across multiple operational areas. Proving solitary incidents of abuse or specific violations won’t suffice to prevail overall. Establishing a discernible pattern will prove essential.

Observers note CCN has fended off similar allegations about other sites it operates. And amassing additional proof and testimony will prove difficult given security barriers limiting outside access. However, if the mounting evidence compels court intervention, mandated changes could occur. Those could include population caps, requiring additional medical resources, more guards focused on deescalation tactics, and appointing independent monitors at ICE expense.

A best-case but unlikely scenario for the plaintiffs might result in ICE terminating the contract altogether and removing detainees from the site. But the federal agency relies heavily on contracted detention spaces making that improbable barring extreme violations.

More realistically, any litigation will take months if not years to play out. And even achieving some reforms could necessitate ongoing court supervision and further legal action. Unfortunately, that provides little immediate relief for hundreds of detainees who currently call the troubled Maryland facility home.

Conclusion

The coming lawsuit promises close scrutiny of immigration detention conditions often kept hidden from public view. Achieving meaningful change requires time and vigorous effort. Meanwhile, hundreds of detainees worry about their health, safety and sanity while confined indefinitely awaiting uncertain fates. Here’s hoping their voices compel positive reforms sooner rather than later.

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