The Donald D. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, Rhode Island was part of the network of public and private prisons that the federal government has used as outsourced “warehouses” for human beings held in detention.
We are not talking about hard core criminals here, although it is likely these facilities do house convicted criminals of every stripe. In terms of “warehousing” (as opposed to criminal punishment) the inventory is non-violent, non-criminally charged men and women being held for various immigration regulation infractions.
The Wyatt facility is where Hiu Lui (Jason) Ng was held the last month of his life, subject to the abuse and neglect of the staff and management of the facility. I told Jason Ng’s story on these pages in my posting titled “Liberty & Life Ultimately Denied By A Callous Government”. Jason was a law abiding resident, growing up in the United States since his arrival at age 17 and 1992, trying to work within the system to obtain legal residency status, all the while contributing as a productive member of society.
Nina Bernstein reported in the New York Times story titled “U.S. Report On the Death Of a Detainee Is Scathing” on January 16 that federal Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials investigated and found staff and management of the Wyatt facility culpable for the mistreatment and death of Jason Ng. ICE has terminated its contract with Wyatt. Bernstein’s reporting last week was a follow-up to her reporting in August of 2008 and included:
The federal investigation began last summer, soon after The New York Times reported on the death of Mr. Ng, 34. His extensive cancer and fractured spine had gone undiagnosed, despite his pleas for help, until shortly before he died in custody on Aug. 6.
Kelly Nantel, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said the investigation showed that supervisors at the Wyatt detention center had in effect prevented Mr. Ng from meeting with his lawyer by refusing him the use of a wheelchair when he was too ill and in too much pain to walk.
The 33-page investigation report also found that the guards and medical staff, acting on orders of the warden, violated the jail’s policy on the use of force when Mr. Ng was dragged to a van for a trip to Hartford, where his lawyers say he was pressured to withdraw all his appeals and accept deportation.
The jail’s overhead surveillance video cameras captured everything…
Investigators interviewed 158 people in the course of their inquiry, but the surveillance videotapes clearly told them most of what they needed to know. At one point, they wrote, the captain cursed Mr. Ng, calling him an idiot, and ordered him to “stop whining.”
Mr. Ng kept saying that he could not walk, begged for a wheelchair, and “continued to scream,” the report said, as he was pulled under his armpits from his bed, and to another part of the jail to be shackled…
Not surprisingly, officials at Wyatt claimed no responsibility for Jason Ng’s death:
Dante Bellini, a spokesman for Wyatt, called the results of the investigation “disappointing.” Last month, citing its investigation, the immigration agency removed all of its detainees from Wyatt.
“We will continue to look at ways to reverse this,” Mr. Bellini said. “We will continue to look at all our options and filling our beds. But we will steadfastly maintain that we had nothing to do with the detainee’s death.”
Last week, Wyatt announced that it was punishing seven employees in connection with the case, with penalties ranging from termination to reprimand. “We took stern and appropriate action,” Mr. Bellini said.
The only appropriate action, in my view, would be criminal prosecution of the appropriate staff and management of Wyatt involved in this. But it should not stop there. We need the federal authorities under the direction of the new adminstration to take a long hard look at all of our detention policies, Wyatt was not the only contractor used by the government to hold convicted prisoners and un-convicted immigration delinquents in custody, there are many such for profit operations across the country that need a bright light shined upon them. Prisoner abuse at the hands of non-accountable private contractors is not acceptable in this country.
The entire scope of our country’s immigration laws and policies needs to be put under a bright light, and reasonable, humane consideration and decisions need to be made. Advocates were rallying on behalf of Jason Ng’s plight while he was still alive, but if fell upon the deaf ears of our government officials. If for nothing else, Jason Ng’s life and death should now serve as a wake-up call to Americans and spur on our current govenment as the beginning of a turning away from the lawless police state that the previous administration and complicit Congress in Washington led us to.