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Immigrant Detainees Complain of Poor Mental Health Care in NJ Facility

Sixty immigrant detainees at the Essex County Correctional Facility in New Jersey have been placed on suicide watch since 2015, reports Lea Ceasrine in Documented. In grievance records obtained by Documented, detainees at the facility say that their mental health needs are not being addressed – they are not receiving the medications they require, nor do they have ready access to mental health professionals.

“Medical keeps making errors with my meds…I take strong psych meds,” one immigrant detainee wrote. “Can I please get help in these matters before I lose it?”

The complaints about mental health care at the facility come on the heels of a report issued a couple of months ago by the Department of Homeland Security, based on an unannounced inspection it conducted in 2018, which detailed poor conditions at the facility related to safety, security and environmental health. Documented reports on the records it obtained:

“I need the psychiatric doctor, not a second and third referral that go nowhere,” another wrote in November 2018.

“[My] inmate in cell has been exhibiting psychotic episodes. He is becoming a health hazard to everyone at this point,” a desperate detainee wrote multiple times. He didn’t get a response from someone at the facility for 15 days.

One mental health counselor at Essex said “there were not enough mental health resources to meet the needs at the facility,” according to Eleni Bakst, a fellow with Human Rights First, who visited the facility in February 2018 and led the report on inadequate care for immigrants in New Jersey detention.

While most of the grievances submitted to the Essex County Correctional Facility were reviewed and responded to by the facility’s medical department in a matter of a few days, in many cases, detainees were told to submit “medical sick call requests” to be scheduled to see a practitioner. In cases of urgent medical emergencies, detainees were told to alert their housing officers who would notify the medical department on their behalf.

Data on suicides indicate that immigrant detainees are more likely than the general prison population to kill themselves.

Nationwide, suicides accounted for 7 percent of all inmate deaths in 2014, the highest rate since 2001, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Within the immigrant detainee population, over 12% of deaths since 2003 (when ICE began tracking deaths) were suicides, according to data Documented compiled and updated from American Immigration Lawyers Association and ICE press releases. ICE data supplied by the AILA shows 15 suicides among the 108 detainee deaths between October 2003 and March 2010. An additional 79 deaths, including nine suicides, have occurred since 2010, according to ICE press releases.

Furthermore, being placed on suicide watch may be a “punitive” measure, since it may involve solitary confinement. Read more at Documented.

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