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Report details harsh conditions for immigrants held in California detention centers

A review of civil detention facilities in California found immigrant detainees are subject to prolonged confinement and lack access to mental and medical care, according to a report by the state's Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Facilities in California have housed some 74,000 immigration detainees from 150 countries between the ages 13 to 95 over the past three years.

At a press conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Becerra characterized his department's review as a "first glimpse" into the 10 California-based facilities, which are operated by the federal government in partnership with local governments and private contractors for those detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

"We're committed to upholding the welfare of all people in California, including those in local detention facilities pending immigration proceedings," Becerra said. "At the California Department of Justice, we will continue to review detention facilities in our state and shine much-needed light on civil detention conditions."

The 134-page initial report is based on a review of the facilities ordered by the California legislature in 2017. Investigators from the California Department of Justice visited each of the detention centers to compile the report. 

The immigrants at the centers had either been apprehended at the border, arrested by ICE elsewhere in the U.S. or taken into custody upon being released from criminal custody. Some detainees were deemed to be a flight risk or dangerous to the community, but others were detained because they couldn't afford to post bond or were ineligible for release on bond.

"The end result is the confinement of many immigrants in highly restrictive settings without any specific finding that they pose a risk of fight or danger to the community," the report said.

The review found that "some detainees may be confined to cells for 22 hours a day." The average stay at the facilities was about 50 days, with the longest period of detention lasting more than four years.

"Lack of bilingual staff and failure to access alternative language services hinder both the staff's ability to convey facility rules to detainees, and detainees' ability to understand those rules," the report found.

The review determined that legal services, mental health support and general medical care are often inadequate. "Medical record accuracy and accessibility, nurses practicing outside their legal scope of practice, superficial medical examinations, delayed or inadequate medical care, inadequate mental health staffing and services, and unsafe suicide watch and disciplinary (solitary confinement) practices," were among the findings at some, but not all, of the California facilities.

Detainees facing criminal charges are not housed in the facilities that were reviewed by the attorney general's office. The report notes that "the federal government decides who is detained and in which detention facility."