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23 Hours in the Box, New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees, 2015

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Solitary Confinement in New Jersey
Immigration Detention

New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees
June 2015

ABOUT THE NEW JERSEY ADVOCATES FOR IMMIGRANT
DETAINEES
New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees is an alliance of civic and
religious organizations (individual participation is also welcome). Its goals include
bringing attention to the plight of immigrant detainees in New Jersey jails,
working to improve the conditions in those institutions, and advocating for the
reduction and elimination of the use of detention of immigrants.
Coalition Members include American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
Immigrant Rights Program; Casa de Esperanza; Casa Freehold; the Episcopal
Immigration Network; First Friends of NJ & NY; the Latin American Legal Defense
and Education Fund, Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in NJ; Middlesex
County Coalition for Immigrant Rights; NJ Forum for Human Rights; Pax Christi
NJ; People’s Organization for Progress- Bergen County Branch; the Reformed
Church of Highland Park; Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill ESL; and the
Unitarian Universalist Congregation at Montclair.

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About the Authors: Andrew Lyubarsky & Juan Caballero
Andrew Lyubarsky and Juan Caballero are J.D. Candidates at New York
University School of Law and are the primary authors of this report. They
conducted this work as student advocates in the Law School’s Immigrant Rights
Clinic.

About the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic
The Immigrant Rights Clinic is a leading institution in both local and national
struggles for immigrant rights. Students engage in direct legal representation of
immigrants and community organizations as well as in immigrant rights
campaigns at the local, state, and national level. Students have direct
responsibility for all aspects of their cases and projects and the opportunity to
build their understanding of legal practice in the field of immigrant rights law and
organizing.

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Acknowledgments
The authors of this report would like to acknowledge all of the individuals and
organizations who collaborated with us to make this report a reality.
From the New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees (NJAID), we worked
closely with Karina Wilkinson; Kathy O’Leary of Pax Christi and Alix Nguefack of
the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program.
They provided us with substantive edits and gave us the opportunity to visit the
facilities in New Jersey and interact with detainees.
We also received valuable commentary from Bonnie Kerness, coordinator of the
AFSC’s national Prison Watch Program, as well as J. Amos Caley, the New
Jersey organizer for the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT).
They are and remain instrumental in organizing advocacy efforts to find a
legislative solution to the overuse of solitary confinement.
We also thank Abraham Paulos, executive director of Families for Freedom
(FFF), a New York-based multi-ethnic human rights organization by and for
families facing and fighting deportation, for helping us with strategy and our
records requests. We are also particularly grateful to Khalil Alvaro Cumberbatch,
the author of this report’s foreword, for his perspective and advice regarding
conditions in immigration detention.
The authors are grateful to Professor Ruben Loyo of the Immigrant Rights Clinic
(IRC) and staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, without whom this report
could not have been written. His ceaseless support and guidance was essential.
Finally, we thank Professor Nancy Morawetz of the IRC and the entire 2014-15
IRC cohort for valuable advice about the framing of the report’s narrative and
structure.
We would also like to thank Patricia Contreras for designing the cover and layout
of this report.

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Executive Summary
Immigration detention has always been characterized as civil and non-punitive, and the
Obama Administration has consistently emphasized a reform of the immigration
detention system to better reflect this fact. Nevertheless, immigrant detainees today are
routinely housed in county jails and private prisons across the country, where they are
subject to a dehumanizing penal regime and face the harshest of disciplinary sanctions
for breaking facility rules—solitary confinement. Although these individuals—who often
have lived in the United States for years and have significant ties to families and
communities here—are merely being detained while awaiting their immigration
proceedings, both ICE regulations and local New Jersey laws allow them to be locked in
dank, solitary cells with no human contact for up to 23 hours a day, in some cases for
up to 30 consecutive days. This is not only inhumane, but violates the current
interpretation of the Convention against Torture and International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights.
Solitary confinement is serious punishment that can have severe psychological, and
physical consequences even for healthy individuals, and it can be even more damaging
for an immigrant population with members who have suffered trauma at the hands of
authorities in their home countries.
The report examines how solitary confinement (or “disciplinary detention”, as it is
officially termed) is applied for immigrant detainees in New Jersey, particularly at the
Bergen County Jail and Hudson County Correctional Facility. Through an analysis of
over a hundred disciplinary reports and hearing decisions from 2013 and 2014 acquired
through Open Public Records Act (OPRA) requests, it provides a glimpse behind the
detention centers’ prison walls, revealing an unnecessarily harsh system that applies
solitary confinement too often and for too long.
Moreover, the current system raises serious due process concerns—while individuals
are entitled to a hearing to adjudicate their guilt or innocence, an overwhelming
percentage of them are found guilty, usually without requesting a witness be present,
and without any recorded appeals of the length of their sentence.

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Findings
Based on the data collected, five specific areas of concern were identified. These
include:

1. Overuse and Inappropriate Use of Solitary Confinement
Solitary confinement is not being used as a last resort for only those acts, which
threaten the safety of the facility. A significant percentage of cases where solitary
confinement was imposed in Bergen County (43.2%) did not involve either violence or
threats of violence against any other person. Less restrictive alternatives are never
considered when there has been any type of physical conflict.
Furthermore, numerous reports suggested that truly individualized assessments were
not being made in all cases. There was no evidence of a thorough mental health
clearance being conducted before the decision is made to place a detainee in solitary
confinement.

2. Excessive Time Spent in Prehearing Lockup
Pre-hearing detention often exceeds the legal limit of 72 hours. The average Bergen
detainee spent 3.28 days in solitary confinement before receiving a hearing to
adjudicate their guilt or innocence, while the average Hudson detainee spent 1.86 days.
However, in Bergen, there were extreme incidents of individuals serving up to 12 days
(for damaging property) or 9 days (for fighting) before receiving a hearing and a
sentence of “time served”.

3. Excessive Length and Stacking of Solitary Confinement Sentences
Facilities regularly stack charges in order to enhance the time that immigrant detainees
spend in solitary confinement beyond 15 days. Both facilities engaged in a troubling
practice of “double charging” individuals by adding a charge of “conduct which disrupts
or interferes with the security or orderly running of the correctional facility” (coded as
infraction 306) to all violations. 12% of solitary confinement sentences in Bergen County
and 19% in Hudson County exceeded 15 days

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4. Violations of individual due process
A number of factors suggest that the due process to which immigrant detainees are
entitled is being provided only in form, not in substance.
•

Immigrant detainees are overwhelmingly found guilty of their charged
offenses.

•

Immigrant detainees are not being offered the opportunity to call
witnesses.

•

Immigrant detainees never appealed the imposition of solitary confinement
against them.

5. Insufficient ICE oversight
Both of these facilities are also subject to ICE standards, which create federal reporting
requirements and auditing requirements in addition to those imposed by the state and
local governments. One such federal requirement is that segregation placements are
reviewed after the first 15 days by a representative of the ICE Field Office to guarantee
that the original segregation justifications remains valid. In practice, these Disciplinary
Segregation Reviews (provided only by Hudson) often function as rubber stamps for the
continued segregation of the detainee. In no instance did a Disciplinary Segregation
Review form indicate that the continued segregation of the detainee was no longer
necessary.

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Recommendations
1. Strengthen New Jersey Law Governing Solitary Confinement
The report concludes that many of the problems identified would be remedied by the
passage of the Isolated Confinement Restriction Act (“NJ S 2588”), a forward-thinking
piece of legislation which would restrict the use of solitary confinement in state and
county correctional facilities.
The passage of this legislation would remedy many of the problems identified in this
report’s findings in the following ways:
•

By imposing a rigorous legal standard which indicates that solitary
can only be applied when the detainee would create a serious risk
harm to himself or others and mandating the use of less restrictive
the legislation would significantly reduce the frequency that solitary
is imposed.

•

By mandating that the Department of Corrections research and implement less
restrictive alternatives to solitary confinement, the legislation would lead to a less
punitive disciplinary regime and give facilities other options to maintain order
while respecting detainees’ rights.

•

By limiting the maximum time that an individual can spend in solitary confinement
to 15 consecutive days, or 20 days over any 60 day period, the legislation would
bring New Jersey in line with international law and human rights standards and
decrease the chances of individuals suffering lasting physical or psychological
damage.

•

By limiting the presumptive maximum sentence to 15 consecutive days, the
legislation would eliminate incentives for institutions to “double charge” detainees
with multiple disciplinary offenses.

•

By prohibiting the use of solitary confinement for the youngest and oldest
detainees, as well as for those with mental health or serious medical issues, the
legislation would protect vulnerable populations.

•

By requiring the Department of Corrections to publish quarterly reports regarding
the use of solitary confinement in each facility, the legislation would promote
transparency and accountability in the disciplinary process.

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confinement
of imminent
alternatives,
confinement

However, strengthening New Jersey law regarding solitary confinement is not the only
solution to the problems that all individuals—immigration detainees and inmates alike—
face in the state’s correctional institutions. Whether advocates’ efforts to reform the law
are successful or not, the report also issues the following recommendations:

2. Establish Effective Mental Health Screening Procedures
•

Facilities should implement comprehensive mental health screening by qualified,
independent mental health professionals who are accountable to an outside body.

3. Guarantee Due Process and Promote Facility Accountability Under
the Current Law
•

Facilities should refrain from “double-charging” detainees with “conduct which
disrupts or interferes with the security or orderly running of the correctional
facility” (charge 306) unless their alleged offense is not covered by any other
disciplinary charge. Facilities should only use charge 306 if it pertains to an
allegation which is not covered by any other disciplinary charge, and not as an
automatic “sentence-enhancer.”

•

The State Department of Corrections should play a more robust role in monitoring
both the conditions of confinement and the due process afforded detainees by
engaging in unscheduled site inspections and audits of disciplinary hearing
documents to ensure compliance with existing standards and proper due process.

•

The Corrections Ombudsman’s office should offer services to all those detained
in county facilities.

•

A civilian review board, which could respond to detainee and inmate complaints
about their due process rights, sentence lengths, or conditions in solitary
confinement, should be formed. This board should have the power to conduct site
visits and examine all documents relating to the imposition of solitary
confinement, as well as make recommendations to corrections officials regarding
excessive or inappropriate disciplinary measures. This would promote
transparency and the participation of a wide range of civil society stakeholders.

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4. End Mass Immigration Detention
While this report is narrowly focused on a particularly extreme form of disciplinary
sanction faced by certain immigration detainees, it should be noted that these
individuals, who are not being held because they have committed any crime, should not
be held in detention in the first place. Immigrants should have the right to prepare their
case with their families and in the communities, without passing through the ordeal of
months (or sometimes years) of traumatic detention.
New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees believes that mass immigration
detention is unjustified by public safety concerns and inhumane. We call on Congress to
repeal the bed quota mandating some 34,000 immigration beds per night, modify the
mandatory detention law to permit every immigrant to have his or her bond equities
considered by an immigration judge, and end the mass immigration detention system as
we know it. 1

1

This demand has now been made by, among others, the Editorial Board of the New York Times. See Op-Ed, End
Immigration Detention, N.Y. TIMES (May 15, 2015), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/opinion/endimmigration-detention.html.

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