Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have agreed to provide immigration detainees with constitutionally adequate levels of medical and mental health care as part of an agreement to settle an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit charging that deficient care at the San Diego Correctional Facility (SDCF) caused unnecessary suffering and death. As part of the settlement, ICE has also agreed to change its policy on medical care that had led to the denial of what ICE deemed to be “non-emergency” care, including heart surgeries and cancer biopsies.
Among the settlement agreement’s provisions are requirements that detainees at SDCF receive health care that meets or exceeds National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards and that an additional full-time psychiatrist and four full-time psychiatric nurses be hired to ensure that detainees receive adequate mental health care. The settlement also requires immigration officials to remove from existing policies all statements suggesting that detainees will receive only emergency medical services and to include in the same policies explicit statements mandating that detainees shall be provided medical care whenever it is necessary to address a serious medical need.
Originally filed in June 2007 by the ACLU, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the law firm Cooley LLP, the complaint stated that detainees at SDCF were routinely subjected to long delays before treatment, denied necessary medication for chronic illnesses and refused essential referrals prescribed by medical staff.
The lawsuit specifically cited the cases of 11 detainees, including several whose bipolar disorders and depression went untreated, a man who was forced to wait more than eight months for eye surgery and nearly suffered permanent disfigurement and detainees who never received medical attention despite suffering from a variety of maladies including Type 2 diabetes, hypercholesterolemia, hypertension, abscessed and broken teeth and severe chest pains.
The lawsuit charged that the refusal of immigration officials to provide appropriate medical care punished immigration detainees in violation of the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the infliction of unnecessary pain and suffering on federal detainees. Because SDCF holds civil immigrant detainees not serving a criminal sentence, the Fifth Amendment applies to protect their civil rights.
A copy of the settlement agreement is available online at: www.aclu.org/prisoners-rights/woods-v-morton-settlement-agreement