Stewart Detention Center Courtesy photo

Project South and a coalition of immigrant rights groups are calling for the closure of three ICE facilities in Georgia—Stewart Detention Center, Atlanta City Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Center—after two immigrants died last week at Stewart and ACDC.

Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph hanged himself on May 15 after 19 days in solitary confinement at Stewart. The next day, Atul Kumar Babubhai Patel, 58, died in ICE custody at Grady Memorial Hospital, where he’d been taken from ACDC. ICE has said the death was from complications from congestive heart failure.

The deaths follow a May 12 ruling from a federal judge allowing ICE to force-feed an imprisoned immigrant, Vitaly Novikov on a hunger strike at Stewart.

Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South’s legal and advocacy director, said in an email that Project South has called on Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to shut down ACDC and coalition partners have contacted the Stewart County commissioners. The other coalition members are: Georgia Detention Watch, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Black Alliance for Just Immigration and the Detention Watch Network.

“We will continue to follow up,” Shashahani said.

The deaths “are an unfortuntate illustration of the poor medical treatment, misuse of isolation, deplorable health conditions and the unnecessary detention of persons looking for a place of refuge,” said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, in an announcement.

The coalition also is calling on ICE to end all contracts with the city of Atlanta and Stewart and Irwin counties.

Stewart, the second-largest immigrant detention center in the country, is run by Corrections Corporation of America, which recently rebranded as CoreCivic. Irwin is run by another private prison operator, LaSalle Corrections, while ACDC is run by the city of Atlanta.

Project South released a report earlier this month that also called for shutting down the Stewart and Irwin county facilities.

“Georgia immigration detention centers are rife with human rights abuses including the rampant use of solitary confinement, minimal access to mental health care, and inedible food,” Shahshahani said.

The group’s report said detention conditions “should not amount to punishment” since immigration detention is civil, not criminal. It described “deplorable” conditions including tainted water, poor treatment by guards and labor for $1 a day. Lack of access to phones, lawyers and legal materials, and violations of due process rights were other top issues.

It recommended that ICE “hold contract facilities accountable for not complying with ICE standards.” Corrections Corporation of America has a $48 million annual contract with ICE, according to the report.

The report was co-authored by Penn State Law School’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. Volunteer lawyers, law students and interpreters for Project South interviewed 83 current and former detainees at Stewart and Irwin, while Penn State law students surveyed 14 lawyers with clients at the facilities.

ICE spokesperson Bryan Cox said in an email that the report was based “almost entirely on anonymous, undated allegations,” and that Stewart and Irwin counties comply with ICE’s detention standards.

The two immigrants who died were the first deaths in ICE custody in more than six years, he added.