Bristol County House of Correction, Bristol, Massachusetts
March 30, 2020 – ongoing

Immigrant detainees at the Bristol County House of Correction (BCHOC) organized a work stoppage to protest the lack of action on the part of the prison to protect them from the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak. The protest occurred as the disease caused by the novel coronavirus spread throughout the state of Massachusetts and the US prison system, and as advocates, attorneys and prisoners themselves continue to call for the immediate release of as many incarcerated people as possible.

In the midst of the work stoppage, the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department, which operates the facility, disclosed that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19.

According to a report by Uprise RI, the work stoppage has forced guards to do the work of maintaining the facility themselves.

From the report by Uprise RI:

This morning, one person detained by ICE in the facility observed, according to Alkalay, that “there were guards sort of amassing outside the door” and that all of the detainees were seated in their bunks, fearing violence from the correctional officers.

Later in the day, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson and about 15 officers entered the facility, carrying guns pointed at the detainees who sheltered under plastic tables, Alkalay told UpriseRI.

Jonathan Darling, spokesperson for the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, told UpriseRI that Hodgson and Superintendent Steven Souza entered the unit “accompanied by about 15 correctional officers for security.” One officer “had a pepper ball gun,” Darling said, but he did not comment on whether guns were pointed at detainees. Darling said that Hodgson told the detainees he would review their “grievances” and “meet with them again this afternoon.”

Darling told UpriseRI that the work stoppages started last night, and that correctional officers are now doing the work that detainees did, “such as serving meals, doing laundry and cleaning tables, etc.” Darling said that during the “minor protest” in the ICE wing of the facility this morning, phone access was shut off, but has been restored.

The protest follows a series of letters, written by detainees at the facility, carefully articulating their concerns about the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Massechusetts-based group Fang Collective has coordinated support for the striking detainees. On April 2, a group of Connecticut residents held a protest at the Hartford office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) demanding the release of detainees.

On Friday, March 27, Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of all civil detainees currently being held at the facility. “Plaintiffs are subject to imminent infection, illness, and death because of their civil immigration detention,” the complaint reads, “literally trapped, with no safe alternative available to them.”

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that continuing to hold the detainees in custody violates the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution:

The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that civil detainees, including all immigrant detainees, may not be subjected to punishment. The government violates this substantive due process right when it subjects civil detainees to treatment and conditions of confinement that amount to punishment or does not ensure the detainees’ safety and health.

It also alleges that the BCHOC continues to admit new detainees, despite the dangerous circumstances at the jail.

Defendants continue to admit new ICE detainees to Bristol County Immigration Detention Facilities, in reckless disregard of and deliberate indifference to the dangerous conditions there and the inability of Bristol County Immigration Detention Facilities to provide minimal protection against COVID-19.

While the strike was ongoing, a federal judge urged ICE to refrain from transferring new immigrant detainees into the facility facilities, though he stopped short of issuing a formal court order.

Citations:

4 more coronavirus deaths reported, 698 new cases identified in Mass.“, The Herald News, March 29, 2020.

Lawsuit Calls For Emergency Release of ICE Detainees in a Massachusetts County“, The Appeal, March 30, 2020.

Bristol County Correctional Center officials retaliate after ICE detainees declare work strike“, Uprise RI, March 31, 2020.

Coronavirus case confirmed in Massachusetts ICE detention facility“, MassLive, April 2, 2020.

Nurse at Bristol County House of Corrections tests positive for Covid-19“, Dartmouth Week, April 2, 2020.

Judge Urges ICE To Stop Sending Detainees To Bristol County While Coronavirus Lawsuit Plays Out“, WBUR News, March 30, 2020.

 

Article Published: 4/2/2020

Header Source: Unidad Latina en Acción CT @ULAnewhaven