Saipan's $20.9-million adult prison that opened only in 2008 could lose more federal inmates to facilities in Guam, Hawaii, and Los Angeles and could face complaints for not keeping up with revised detention standards to ensure improved medical and mental health services, among other things, officials said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed yesterday that they found “several deficiencies” in the Saipan facility's detainee healthcare system related to “staffing, availability of services and recordkeeping” that resulted in the transfer off-island of all but six ICE inmates on Saipan.
There used to be as many as 20 ICE detainees at the facility last month.
ICE is a component agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the lead agency in the federal takeover of CNMI immigration.
Lori K. Haley, public affairs officer/spokeswoman for ICE-Western Region, said ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in its custody and to providing the highest quality medical care available.
“All facilities under contract to house ICE detainees must conform to the agency’s rigorous detention standards and undergo regular comprehensive inspections,” she told Saipan Tribune.
ICE revised its detention standards to improve medical and mental health services, increase access to legal services and religious opportunities, improve communication with detainees with limited English proficiency, improve the process for reporting, and responding to complaints, and increase recreation and visitation.
These new standards, known as Performance-Based National Detention Standards 2011, represent an important step in detention reform.
PBNDS 2011 reflects ICE’s ongoing effort to tailor the conditions of immigration detention to its unique purpose while maintaining a safe and secure detention environment for staff and detainees.
Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan), a former member of the CNMI Prison Task Force and a former CNMI immigration director, said yesterday it is in the CNMI's best interest to comply with federal detention standards to avoid complaints and lawsuits from local and federal inmates, as well as avoid losing more federal inmates to facilities off-island.
“ICE may also have made that decision to transfer their inmates to avoid potential lawsuits. Detention standards are there, regardless of the inmates-whether local or federal detainees,” he said.
Just the same, Sablan said it would be better if the U.S. Bureau of Prisons could also make its own “neutral assessment” of the Saipan prison rather than having ICE-as a “client” of the facility-doing all the assessment.
Haley confirmed that the recent assessments of the Saipan detention facility were performed by representatives from ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations and Health Service Corps.
She said, “ICE has informed CNMI officials about the findings and outlined the changes that need to be made to bring the facility into compliance with ICE's standards.” ICE found “several deficiencies in the facility's detainee healthcare system related to staffing, availability of services, and record keeping.”
“When these deficiencies came to light last month, ICE transferred several aliens out of the Saipan detention facility. At this time, six ICE detainees remain in custody there,” Haley said.
ICE's current detention contract with the CNMI to use the Saipan prison extends through May 2013 and provides funding for 20 beds at a rate of $89 a day, Haley said.
“ICE values its relationship with its partners at the CNMI Department of Corrections and appreciates the department's continued willingness to work with us to safeguard the welfare of ICE's detainees,” she added.
Attorney General Edward Buckingham said the transfer of 13 inmates to Guam, Hawaii, and Los Angeles are “operational decisions” made by ICE.
“The Commonwealth and ICE collaborate on a range of issues including housing detainees. We expect that the population will return to 20 once the healthcare issues are addressed. Both ICE and the Commonwealth are proceeding with the understanding this is a priority. There is no specific timeline in place,” Buckingham had said.
Another CNMI official privy to the issue said ICE's standards seem like “too much” and do not seem to take into account the CNMI's current realities, including financial constraint to station a nurse at the Saipan prison, for example. The official said it seems those who are in prison are required to have better access to healthcare than those outside of prison.