Who is detained at Farmville?
Everyone detained in the facility at Farmville is facing deportation. Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have decided certain people need to be held in a facility as they wait for their day in immigration court.
ICE says detention “is not punitive” and that they “may determine who should be detained based on two main criteria, flight risk and risk to public safety.” The average length of stay is 54 days, although some people have stayed for more than a year.
The Farmville facility houses adult men. Two-thirds are Hispanic and many come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some are as young as 18, or as old as 70. The facility has beds for about 750 individuals.
Most are picked up by ICE officials after some kind of encounter with local law enforcement in D.C. or Virginia. However, when border crossings spiked last Spring, some were sent here from the border. The facility was overcapacity in May with 815 detainees. Detainees slept on cots in the chapel for about two weeks.
According to numbers provided by ICE, 90% of the people detained in D.C. and Virginia in the most recent fiscal year had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges. Those charges could be anything from sexual assault, to possession of marijuana. Lawyers in the area tell RADIOIQ they’ve noticed more immigrants being detained who don't have violent criminal charges.
What are conditions like?
Detainees spend most of their time in the dorms they live in. The big open rooms contain anywhere from around 40 detainees to around 100. They eat breakfast on cafeteria tables there, they sleep on bunk beds there, and they shower and use the bathroom in open facilities there. There are also pay phones detainees can pay to use, and televisions they can watch.
Immigration Centers of America, the private company that operates the facility, says detainees are given the option of four hours of outdoor recreation each day in outdoor pens. One former detainee complained that is often provided beginning at 5 a.m. The facility has an indoor gym, a computer lab, a library, and a chapel. Detainees are granted access to each of these things for a certain number of hours each week.
Some detainees may be segregated and held in individual cells, either by choice or as punishment. Someone has been segregated for up to a year before.
Detainees who are not classified as a threat are able to work in the facility cleaning, doing laundry, or cooking in the kitchen. They make between 45 cents an hour, to $1.85 an hour.
What medical care is available?
All detainees are given a physical within two weeks of arriving. About 10-percent are labeled as needing “chronic care” because of diabetes, high blood pressure, or another reason. If a detainee has a medical complaint they fill out a piece of paper. Officials say complaints are routinely dealt with in 24 hours, however RADIOIQ heard reports to the contrary from lawyers representing current and former detainees.
The facility has 32 medical staff, including one full time doctor, two full time counselors, one part time dentist and one part time psychiatrist. There are four to five nurses on duty during the day. Most of the medical staff do not speak Spanish, although translation services are available.
Who owns and runs the facility?
The facility is owned by Immigration Centers of America. The private company is based in Richmond and this is the only facility they currently operate. Documents show they routinely invoice the federal government for more than $2 million a month. They make more money the more detainees are housed there.
ICA has responded to requests for immigration facilities elsewhere in the country, including in Michigan, Illinois and Maryland. According to the Baltimore Sun local officials from Sudlersville, Maryland were given a tour of the Farmville facility.
Is there any history of abuse or poor treatment at the facility?
ICE and ICA were both sued for their treatment of detainees during a recent outbreak of mumps at the facility. That case was voluntarily dropped by plaintiffs in September. The facility was quarantined and detainees could not be released and family wasn't allowed to visit.
According to a lawyer who has talked to multiple detainees there during the outbreak, many were scared and weren’t told what was going on. Several detainees organized a hunger strike. The organizers were forcibly removed by guards at the facility and two were pepper-sprayed. Three of them were isolated for weeks. They allege, in a case that has since been dropped, that they were punished without due process.
The facility was also investigated in 2015 by federal officials over complaints about access to medical care and use of force. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Civil Rights and Civil Complaints said they resolved and closed the complaints but would “continue to monitor this facility for civil rights and civil liberties violations.”
One person died in ICE custody from the facility soon after it opened in 2011. He had liver failure and, after entering the facility, he was found unconscious. He was taken to the UVA hospital where he died.
Related Content: 'I Lost Hope' A Look Inside the ICE Detention Center in Farmville
*Editor's Note: This article was corrected on January 24, 2020 to reflect the fact that a lawsuit referenced is no longer pending, but was dismissed. We apologize for the error.
This article was updated January 24, 2020 to reflect additional information on medical care provided by a representative of Immigration Centers of America, or ICA.