Protocol Failures Lead to Sexual Abuse of Immigration Detainees
Sexual abuse behind bars flourishes when officials act with impunity -- and when facilities are closed to outside scrutiny. A recent incident at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an immigration detention facility in Texas, highlights the vital need for sensible corrections practices and external oversight. The Department of Homeland Security revealed that a male officer at the Hutto facility transported female detainees by himself -- a breach of Department protocol -- and sexually abused several of the detainees.
Federal studies of detainees at jails and at juvenile facilities reveal that a significant percentage of sexual abuse is perpetrated by staff members of the opposite sex. Despite such data, however, few prisons, jails, or other detention facilities limit cross-gender supervision (even in areas where prisoners are nude or performing bodily functions) or prohibit officers of the opposite sex from being alone with inmates.
The national standards addressing sexual abuse in detention currently under review by the Justice Department contain such provisions. The abuses at Hutto underscore the need for Attorney General Eric Holder to issue final standards that include strong limits on cross-gender supervision.
In the past week, Just Detention International and other advocacy groups have met with the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the agency's response to the Hutto abuse. Although the Department has taken some key steps, more needs to be done. Importantly, detainees need safe ways to report abuse and get help from outside advocates.
Thank you for your support of our efforts to ensure that no one, no matter the reason for their detention, is sexually abused behind bars.