Saturday, May 29, 2010

ICE investigating alleged sex assault of detainees

WASHINGTON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement is investigating allegations that a guard at a central Texas detention facility sexually assaulted female detainees on their way to being deported.

Agency spokesman Brian Hale said Friday the guard has been fired and Corrections Corporation of America, which manages the prison, is on probation pending the investigation's outcome.

Several women who were held at T. Don Hutto detention facility in Taylor, Texas, were groped while being patted down and at least one was propositioned for sex, ICE said.

"We understand that this employee was able to commit these alleged crimes because ICE-mandated transport policies and procedures were not followed," David Sanders, the Homeland Security Department's contracting officer said in a letter to Corrections Corporation of America obtained by The Associated Press.

ICE has ordered Corrections Corporation of America to make changes, including not allowing male guards to be alone with female detainees.

Messages left with Corrections Corporation America officials seeking comment were not immediately returned and a public affairs officer stationed at Hutto had left for the day.

The 490-bed Hutto facility is a former prison where children and their parents were previously held. As part of the Obama administration's immigration detention reforms, ICE ended the family detentions at Hutto and converted it to a facility for female detainees. The changes were considered a symbol of the overhaul of immigration detention, where some detainees had died due to medical neglect and U.S. citizens were illegally held.

As part of the plan, ICE officials said they would step up monitoring of its largest detention centers, removing that role from private companies that operate the facilities under contract with ICE.

"This case at Hutto, it's inevitable when you are dealing with such a massive web of detention with such little oversight," said Jacki Esposito, policy coordinator for Detention Watch Network, which monitors immigration detention centers.

Hale said ICE is working to prevent the guard under investigation from working again for the federal government and pursuing financial penalties against the company. It has also set up sexual harassment training for detention staff.

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