Dawn Wooten is a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, a private prison owned by LaSalle Corrections that contracts with ICE. Wooten has filed a whistleblower complaint through the legal advocacy group Project South, alleging a variety of medical abuses, neglectful mismanagement, and other horrors. According to the complaint, LaSalle Corrections has been underreporting COVID-19 cases in the detention center; when Wooten questioned this, she was punished with a demotion.
And then there's this, from Law & Crime:
Multiple women came forward to tell Project South about what they perceived to be the inordinate rate at which women in ICDC were subjected to hysterectomies – a surgical operation in which all or part of the uterus is removed. Additionally, many of the immigrant women who underwent the procedure were reportedly "confused" when asked to explain why they had the surgery, with one detainee likening their treatment to prisoners in concentration camps.
The complaint details several accounts from detainees, including one woman who was not properly anesthetized during the procedure and heard the aforementioned doctor tell the nurse he had mistakenly removed the wrong ovary, resulting in her losing all reproductive ability. Another said she was scheduled for the procedure but when she questioned why it was necessary, she was given at least three completely different answers.
To be clear: this is forced sterilization, and if true, it is actually straight-up Nazi shit. It's also an incredibly dangerous procedure; my mom had a medically necessary hysterectomy 15 years ago, and it nearly killed her. Twice. She still hasn't fully recovered. Forcing someone to undergo a hysterectomy — even if you explained "why" to them, which allegedly has not happened in these cases! — is truly, utterly, nauseatingly inhumane.
ICE has, of course, denied all of Wooten's claims, saying:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.
But it is worth noting that LaSalle Corrections has faced numerous complaints in recent months about similar abuses at different facilities. As The Intercept reported:
In July, medical staff at the LaSalle-owned Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana submitted a letter to Congress detailing troubling allegations, including that LaSalle management withheld personal protective equipment from both staff and detainees, dismissed positive Covid-19 test results, and ignored symptoms. In the same month, medically vulnerable asylum-seekers detained at Richwood told The Intercept they were handcuffed, pepper-sprayed in the face, and thrown into solitary confinement after protesting the dangerous conditions. One of the men was transferred to River Correctional, another LaSalle-run detention center, where he told The Intercept that management there also neglected to take proper medical precautions to stop Covid-19's spread. Asylum-seekers have described similar abuses at LaSalle-run Winn Correctional Center.
Of course, even if all of Wooten's claims are substantiated, ICE's denial may still arguably be valid, in a legal sense—if they outsourced the work to a private contractors, then hey, it's not their fault all these horrible things happened, right? They had nothing to do with it, they'll say. They're the good guys! Maybe they'll terminate the contract with LaSalle; maybe the contract doesn't even allow for that. I guess we'll see.
"A Silent Pandemic:" Nurse at ICE facility blows the whistle on coronavirus dangers [José Olivares and John Washington / The Intercept]
Ice detainees faced medical neglect and hysterectomies, whistleblower alleges [Kari Paul / The Guardian US]
Image: U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Steve Bauer (Public Domain)