'Somebody Could Die': Conditions Worsen at California Prison Detaining 1,000 Migrants

Conditions are worsening in the Victorville, California, federal prison that has been forced to detain 1,000 migrants due to the Trump administration’s escalated arrests at the U.S/Mexico border. The facility, already facing budget cuts that have left it understaffed—officials have put “medical staff, teachers, food service workers, and other prison employees ... on guard duty to cover the prison’s basic functions”—has reported an outbreak of chicken pox and scabies among detainees. “Staff who spoke to HuffPost said that, if medical conditions continue to worsen, they fear a riot could break out”:

Staffers had raised the alarm that medical conditions were already unsafe due to understaffing at the Mojave Desert prison before the detainees’ arrival, which increased the total imprisoned population to 4,500. No additional staffers have been hired to help attend to the 1,000 detainees that arrived around June 8, and staffers say that the original intake screening procedures were rushed and that inadequate physical exams have been performed.  

Detainees told Congressman Mark Takano and staffers from U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office that even the most basic of necessities, like clean clothes, underwear, and linens had been unavailable for their entire duration at the prison, now at about three weeks. “I do fear for their safety in the sense of their mental health, their human spirit, that the sense of hopelessness and depression could cause some of them to take their own lives,” Congressman Takano said.

But just weeks ago, an inmate at the prison committed suicide after he “did not receive the required doctor’s visit during his first two weeks at the facility, which overlapped with the influx of ICE detainees.” According to staffers, the facility has only one full-time doctor for the now 4,500 population size.

The overburdening isn’t just harming inmates and detainees, it’s also putting the lives of prison staffers in danger. “If you already have inadequate medical staff predominantly at all facilities and then bring in 1,000 inmates―that equates to a recipe for disaster to me,” said Eric Young, national president of the Council of Prison Locals.

“Inmates complaining about inadequate medical care results in somebody getting killed”:

And while the additional detainees are exacerbating the prison’s problems, Victorville is not alone. The Sheridan federal prison in northwest Oregon received more than 120 detainees, and that prison is at only 50 percent of its required medical staff, Travis Ray, AFGE Local 3979 president and a prison officer, told HuffPost.

“Victorville puts into stark relief our government’s responsibility toward those whom they detain or deport and all those with whom they interact,” Dr. Jonathan Fielding of the University of California, Los Angeles wrote in an op-ed about this crisis. “Holding thousands of detainees from cities and rural areas together puts those with diseases and others with little immunity to them in close contact. Infectious diseases like chicken pox are only one indication of the dual challenges we face in trying to identify and treat health care problems of detainees while protecting our collective public health.”

“This is such a damn shitshow,” case manager John Kostelnik said more bluntly. “This could have been prevented.”

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