Irwin County Detention Center

Protesters gather in front of the ICE Atlanta Field Offices on Sept. 15 in response to a whistleblower complaint alleging unsafe conditions in the Irwin County Detention Center in South Georgia.

ATLANTA — An immigrant detention facility named in a whistleblower's complaint has been flagged for federal review in the past.

The complaint filed Monday against Irwin County Detention Center that has sparked outcry nationwide after alleging mass hysterectomies taking place on the immigrant women detained there without their informed consent. A licensed practical nurse formerly employed at the facility, Dawn Wooten, has since spoken out as the whistleblower. 

In November 2019, U.S. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform in Congress, requested U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari investigate the living conditions at three privately run Georgia immigrant detention facilities, including the one located in Irwin county.

In the letter, Maloney said the committee’s staff visited the Stewart Detention Center, the Irwin County Detention Center and the Folkston ICE processing center and “uncovered significant concerns.”

The committee listed instances where solitary confinement led to multiple detainee suicides and anti-riot tactics were used against protests staged by detainees at the Stewart Detention Center. It described “filthy” showers at the Folkston location that, the letter says, were cleaned solely for the purpose of the committee’s visit and officer’s barring immigrants from using blankets to sleep at night. 

“Treatment can be especially harsh on inmates who don’t speak English,” Maloney wrote.

Across facilities, detainees reported some officers were "verbally abusive.” The committee noted some detainees “feared retaliation” for speaking to them and others outright refused out of the same fear.

“Numerous detainees at the three facilities described inhumane or unsanitary conditions,” Maloney wrote, echoing Wooten's descriptions of "inhumane" medical treatments at the center in Irwin County.

Irwin County immigrant detainees reported to the committee extreme sleep deprivation from erratic inmate counts. 

On Tuesday, Maloney along with U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, chairman of the subcommittee on civil rights and civil libraries in Congress, again requested Cuffari conduct an “emergency investigation” into the medical practices being conducted at Irwin County Detention Center.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first time that serious concerns have been raised about this facility," they wrote. "As you know, our Committee staff conducted a site visit at this facility in September 2019, during which they observed alarmingly urgent health and safety issues. In fact, Committee staff were so disturbed that they raised concerns directly with the ICDC warden during the visit.”

The most recent letter included new descriptions from immigrants at the Irwin facility of "numerous untreated medical concerns" including staff withholding mediciation and taking medical devices away from detainees.

Maloney and Raskin wrote that the inspector general's office indicated in 2019 that investigative steps would be taken, but the committee has not received updates on any investigation done. U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has also requested an immediate investigation be done after the whistleblower complaint filed Monday.

ICE has pushed back against Wooten's accusations.

In a statement, Dr. Ada River, medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, said while claims will be fully investigated independently, ICE "vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures."

Rivera said according to ICE data, only two individuals at Irwin County Detention Center received hysterectomies and procedures were consistent with National Commission on Correctional Health Care standards. Both procedures were recommended by medical staff, she said, and reviewed by facility clinical management and approved. 

"All female ICE detainees receive routine, age-appropriate gynecological and obstetrical health care, consistent with recognized community guidelines for women’s health services," she said in a prepared statement. " ... To be clear, medical care decisions concerning detainees are made by medical personnel, not by law enforcement personnel. Detainees are afforded informed consent, and a medical procedure like a hysterectomy would never be performed against a detainee’s will."

Rivera said due to pending investigation ICE "does not comment on prematurely reported allegations."

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