ICE facility conditions may have contributed to spread of Covid-19, watchdog says

A lack of facial coverings and social distancing may have contributed to repeated Covid-19 transmissions at an ICE facility in Illinois, according to a newly released watchdog report that uncovered several health and safety related violations at the detention facility. By Geneva Sands, CNN

(CNN) -- A lack of facial coverings and social distancing may have contributed to repeated Covid-19 transmissions at an ICE facility in Illinois, according to a newly released watchdog report that uncovered several health and safety related violations at the detention facility.

During an unannounced inspection of Pulaski County Jail, which houses ICE detainees, the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General found violations of ICE detention standards that "threatened the health, safety and rights of detainees."

For instance, the watchdog frequently observed detainees gathered in groups and not wearing masks or practicing social distancing, which is shown in surveillance images released in the report. Between February 2020 and February 2021, the facility had 111 cases of Covid-19.

"In addressing COVID-19, Pulaski did not consistently enforce precautions including use of facial coverings and social distancing, which may have contributed to repeated COVID-19 transmissions at the facility," the report concluded.

The inspectors also observed improper welfare checks on detainees who were segregated -- a form of solitary confinement. On six of eight occasions, facility staff did not observe some or all of the detainees in segregation, a check-in process that is required to prevent suicide and identify detainees who need medical assistance.

Additionally, a detainee with a significant criminal history was found inadvertently co-mingling with detainees with no criminal history, a violation of standards.

This is the latest Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report to reveal concerns about detainee treatment and care.

A watchdog report released in April concluded that detainees at an ICE detention center in Arizona filed hundreds of grievances about mistreatment, including use-of-force incidents.

The latest report is the result of an unannounced remote inspection of the Pulaski County Jail in Ullin, Illinois, one of roughly 200 nationwide facilities used by ICE to house detainees.

In response to a draft report, ICE agreed with the report's five recommendations, but said it lacked context, noting that current guidance does not allow detention facilities to "enforce" mask wearing and social distancing.

The facility made "extensive efforts" to encourage compliance with Covid-19 guidelines, wrote ICE Chief Financial Officer Stephen Roncone in response to a draft report.

CNN has reached out to ICE for additional comment.

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