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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Other Papers Say: Probe death at detention center

By The Seattle Times
Published: April 15, 2024, 6:01am

This editorial originally appeared in The Seattle Times.

The life and death of Charles Daniel at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma should be investigated not only by detention center officials, but by an agency that’s not linked to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Operated by The GEO Group, the facility is among about 130 detention centers used by ICE. This is the state’s only private, for-profit prison. The fact that the company’s profits are based in part on the number of people imprisoned there is disturbing enough, but that little information about Daniel’s death is publicly forthcoming a month later speaks to one of the problems with privately run prisons.

Daniel, 61, who migrated from Trinidad and Tobago, was held in solitary confinement for four years at the detention center, and nearly 10 years before that at a Washington state prison for his second-degree murder conviction in 2003. In December 2020, a judge ordered that Daniel be deported. That never happened. Daniel died March 7. The Pierce County Medical Examiner has not released the cause of death.

A United Nations human rights expert has denounced the use of prolonged solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days, saying it can “trigger and exacerbate psychological suffering, in particular in inmates who may have experienced previous trauma or have mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities.”

A 2022 study by the University of Washington Center for Human Rights found that the Northwest Detention Center detains people longer, on average, in solitary confinement — typically alone for 20 to 22 hours a day — than any other dedicated ICE facility in the nation. It also found that solitary confinement, or segregation, is frequently used on detained people who are mentally ill and others who exercise their First Amendment rights. The study also found reports of sexual assault that go ignored.

Many Washington lawmakers and U.S. senators have expressed concern about solitary confinement in general, and Daniel’s death and conditions at the facility, specifically.

“These reports that Charles Daniel had been in solitary confinement before he was even moved to ICE custody are further troubling given that he was in solitary in ICE custody for 1,418 days,” U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, said in a written statement.

Jayapal, along with U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, co-sponsored the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, which would end the use of private facilities. It also calls for periodic, unannounced, in-person inspections of each facility by the Department of Homeland Security inspector general. The inspector’s findings would be made public online. With Republicans in control of the House, any bill that deals with immigration is unlikely to see movement.

That’s not acceptable because the issue deserves immediate attention from all officials who value accountability, transparency and humane treatment of any person, including someone who is incarcerated.