First Chickenpox, Now Scabies At The Federal Prison In Victorville Holding Immigrant Detainees

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Victorville Federal Prison Complex (Photo by Libby Denkmann)

Earlier this week, chickenpox showed up at the federal prison in Victorville that's holding ICE detainees.

Now, the San Bernardino County prison has confirmed to KPCC/LAist there are nearly a dozen cases of scabies in the immigrant population held in the medium-security lockup.

Meanwhile, immigration attorneys say they are still not getting proper access to the detainees inside the prison, despite an order by a federal judge.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed the scabies outbreak in an emailed statement on Friday. The verification comes days after the local prison guard's union warned there weren't enough medical staff at the Victorville prison complex to process and care for the influx of detainees entangled in the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy.

Statement from the Bureau of Prisons:

"On Monday, June 14, 2018, the Bureau of Prisons medical staff confirmed and isolated eleven cases of scabies among the immigration detainee population at FCI Sheridan's detention center. The facility is taking the necessary precautionary measures to protect staff, inmates and the community from the possibility of being exposed to this virus.

"BOP Clinical Practice Guidelines were followed and an effective treatment plan implemented which involved administering medication, laundering of all items, and the bagging and isolation of personal items. There is a 4-6 week time frame for scabies symptoms to develop after initial exposure. Thus, while individual cases were isolated to the detainee population, in an abundance of caution, the housing unit as a whole and laundry workers were treated in accordance with the clinical guidelines."

Earlier this month, BOP agreed to house nearly a thousand adult men at the facility over an hour outside of Los Angeles. The agency said Immigration and Customs Enforcement needed more beds due to an increased number of illegal border crossings and the Justice Department's new policy of prosecuting all violators "with the full prosecutorial powers of the department of justice."

The union representing prison guards at Victorville has complained for months about being understaffed, especially in the medical unit, and said there were no new hires to handle the hundreds of incoming detainees. Busloads of men, many asylum seekers, were transferred to the prison beginning June 8.

"The main problems that we have is the safety of the staff members and the safety of the detainees," said AFGE Local 3969 vice president Jon Zumkehr. "We haven't got any more medical staff, and that's a big problem to us. We want to ensure that we can provide for everyone that we have at the facility."

BOP did not respond to KPCC/LAist's questions about the number of doctors on staff, who are responsible for the immigrant detainees and regular prison population combined — around 3,600 prisoners split between maximum security, medium security, and a minimum-security camp.

Along with questions about medical care, local advocates say the detainees in Victorville are still getting only limited access to lawyers for advice in their deportation cases, despite a legal victory by the ACLU this week.

On Tuesday, the organization filed an emergency lawsuit alleging immigrants were being denied access to legal counsel. The complaint said volunteer lawyers who wanted to hold "know your rights" clinics for the men at the prison were among the attorneys blocked from entering the prison, and that immigrants weren't being allowed to contact attorneys. The Los Angeles-based non-profit Immigrant Defenders Law Center was one of the plaintiffs named in the case.

In a temporary restraining order issued Thursday afternoon, a federal district court judge in L.A. ordered officials with DHS, ICE, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Justice Department to allow attorneys to access immigrants detained at Victorville, in person or by phone. The judge also ordered a halt to all deportations until the immigrant detainees can access lawyers or legal clinics.

In the order, the judge notes Victorville staff had to process "large groups" of detainees starting June 8th. Staff had to do medical screenings, find out names, and assign registration numbers to incoming detainees. It took 11 days, until June 19th, for BOP to finish processing and be able to finalize visitation procedures.

But so far, attorneys are only being given limited access to meet with prospective clients at Victorville, said Munmeeth Soni, co-legal director at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Visits are only allowed Tuesday through Friday, 8:30 AM to 3 PM, a time frame Soni called "extremely constraining."

When one attorney was able to meet with a client yesterday, "It was exactly what we feared," Soni said. "For 12 to 13 days, he's been denied access to contacting his family members or a lawyer. He asked us to contact his mother (in Arizona). When we got in touch with her, she broke down in tears."

She said as of Friday afternoon phone calls were still not allowed, despite the judge's order.

"The way the facility is run, it is definitely not equipped to handle immigrant detainees," Soni said.

There's a full hearing in the ACLU's case scheduled for Monday in Los Angeles.

The Bureau of Prisons and ICE say the agreement to keep immigrants at federal prisons could last from 120 day up to a year.

KPCC/LAist also learned this week that Victorville's warden, David Shinn, had been reassigned. The Bureau of prisons said in an email the change was a promotion for Warden Shinn, a personnel decision "made prior to the temporary housing of the ICE detainees."


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