Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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NPR Investigates US Immigration Detention Centers

Tonight (December 5) on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED- 7 pm 

Washington, D.C.; December 1, 2005 – NPR News senior correspondent Daniel Zwerdling, whose 2004 investigation into abuse of immigrant detainees in U.S. prisons won top honors for investigative journalism and changed Department of Homeland Security policy, continues his reporting on this subject with a new investigation into the death of a [Jamaican] detainee at a federal facility after staff apparently neglected national medical standards of care. Zwerdling also cites three other recent cases in which immigrant detainees died, after detention officials neglected to give them prompt medical care, according to witnesses.

The half-hour investigation will air on the Monday, December 5 edition of All Things Considered, continuing that series’ use of long-form reports and documentaries. The report will also be available as streaming audio on beginning that day at approximately 7PM (ET).

On November 17 and 18, 2004, Zwerdling reported on harsh conditions in two New Jersey prisons experienced by non-citizens detained by the Department of Homeland Security on administrative charges in advance of deportation. Zwerdling revealed that guards were terrorizing these prisoners with attack dogs – in some cases, ordering the dogs to maul them – and beatings on handcuffed detainees while other guards watched. The report was honored with numerous awards including the Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting from the Radio-Television News Directors Association, the IRE award from Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award for investigative reporting from the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation. Within two days of the broadcasts, the DHS banned the use of dogs around detainees, and officials in Hudson County, NJ announced that 11 guards would be disciplined.

In this new follow-up investigation, Zwerdling examines how Richard Rust, a 34-year-old Jamaican detainee in Louisiana’s Oakdale Federal Detention Center, collapsed and died after government employees apparently disregarded national medical standards by neglecting to give him basic emergency care. Prison employees subsequently put dozens of immigrants at Oakdale in near-solitary confinement after they protested what had happened.

Zwerdling reconstructed what happened by tracking down current and former detainees, now scattered across the U.S. and the Caribbean, who say they witnessed all or part of what happened to Richard Rust. They all tell the same story about Rust’s final hours and how DHS violated its own policy, posted on its website, that "detention staff will…respond to health-related emergencies within a four-minute response time." No Oakdale, Bureau of Prisons or DHS officials would comment on-air for the investigation and, at most, provided brief e-mail responses to some questions. A former state chief medical officer for prisons, however, comments about legal ramifications of potential deliberate indifference to serious medical needs and other experts discuss widespread evidence that detainees have become sick, and some have died, due to similar neglect.

"The earlier series revealed how harshly Homeland Security’s detention system treats some detainees, but even the immigrants who were mauled or beaten didn’t die," said Zwerdling. "Richard Rust and three other detainees died within months of each other, in troubling circumstances, yet officials throughout the detention system don’t seem to think that they need to be held accountable and explain to the public exactly what happened."