During its inspection last year, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general found "serious concerns regarding detainee care and treatment." For example, in one instance, a detainee who is a cancer patient ran out of leukemia medication after the medical staff did not order a refill on time.
Last April, detainees also held a peaceful protest, stemming from the center not providing sufficient personal protective equipment to avoid the spread of Covid-19, according to the report. The facility responded by deploying chemical agents from the ceiling and fired pepper spray from handheld devices, the watchdog report says.
Between August and November 2020, the DHS inspector general conducted an unannounced, remote inspection of La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, as well as viewed surveillance video from areas within the facility, and interviewed ICE personnel, officials at the center, and detainees. At the start of the inspection, the center housed 1,156 ICE detainees.
Last summer, the center, owned and operated by CoreCivic, came under scrutiny when lawyers disseminated a letter from detainees detailing dangerous conditions in custody as coronavirus spread. "We're begging for your help because this is a life or death situation," stated the letter
, which was purportedly signed by 70 detainees held at the La Palma Correctional Center.
"Fundamentally, it's time to start closing some of these facilities, starting with the ones with the most egregious track record," Jorge Loweree, policy director at the American Immigration Council, told CNN. "This report outlines the inability of people with chronic illnesses to obtain necessary medication to treat those illnesses. That's inexcusable."
Surveillance footage images included in the report show the pepper spray incident. In one image, detainees are sitting on the floor in an open area. Another image, from the same day, shows the center's staff, outfitted in helmets and all-black gear, firing pepper spray and chemical agents at detainees.
"A detainee told us he suffered injuries from pepper balls fired by facility staff, but felt too intimidated to file a report about the incident through proper channels," the report reads.