Members of the Immigration law clinic

Immigration Clinic Students Uncover Startling Inhumane Conditions at Florida Detention Center

Immigration Clinic students (left to right) Ivan Rudd 2L, Alejandra Gonzales 2L, Daniel Valentin 2L, Christin Swanepoel 2L, Benjamin Brooks 2L, & Carolina Gonzalez 2L

By Miami Law Staff Report

Immigration Clinic students (left to right) Ivan Rudd 2L, Alejandra Gonzales 2L, Daniel Valentin 2L, Christin Swanepoel 2L, Benjamin Brooks 2L, & Carolina Gonzalez 2L

Immigration Clinic Students Uncover Startling Inhumane Conditions at Florida Detention Center

By Miami Law Staff Report

**Disclaimer: This article contains graphic stories of violence and inhumane conditions suffered by men and women detained by ICE in Florida**

Miami Law's Immigration Clinic traveled to Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, Florida, west of Jacksonville, to meet with immigrants detained in the jail. Under the supervision of clinic director Rebecca Sharpless, second-year clinic students Benjamin Brooks, and Alejandra Gonzales, organized Ivan Rudd, Daniel Valentin, Christin Swanepoel, and Carolina Gonzalez to go to Baker to conduct Know Your Rights presentations and monitor detention conditions. LAFAC generously funded the trip at Miami Law.

Baker County Detention Center, a county jail, has a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain over 120 men and women. Recently, a clinic client was held at Baker before the clinic won her release. However, before she left, she reported horrifying conditions at the jail. "After our client told us about the conditions at Baker, we knew we had to act," said Brooks. "They made our client use a sock as a feminine hygiene product."

Gonzales said, "Now that ICE has stopped using Glades County jail to hold people, it's more important than ever that we monitor detention conditions at Baker, the only facility that houses immigrant women with criminal histories in Florida." Valentin added, "no one has been to Baker since the pandemic started — we knew it was time for someone to go."

Clinic students spent countless hours preparing for the trip. Armed with hundreds of copies of questionnaires and Know Your Rights flyers, clinic students set off to Baker late on March 31, 2022, spent the entire day of April 1 at the jail, and drove back to Miami later that evening.

"One of the first people I spoke with explained that they would likely be 'locked up' for speaking to us," said Brooks. "But almost every single detained person was willing and ready to talk — regardless of possible consequences." The team began their monitoring in the only female pod. "Women in Baker have extremely limited access to hygiene products and are given only two rolls of toilet paper for the month. After they use the two rolls, guards tell detained women to use their socks or undershirts as toilet paper," said Swanepoel. Similarly, another detainee told students that their toilet paper had been restocked shortly before the clinic's visit, and it would likely be removed after students left.

The conditions that the women face at Baker have led them to begin organizing themselves. "Women are going to the small, ill-equipped law library and researching the standards Baker is supposed to be following. They've managed to create a ten-plus page petition that is circulating the facility for detained people to sign," said Gonzales. Already signed by 37 men and women held at Baker, the petition demands better treatment of detained people, including bond redeterminations for those with high-risk COVID comorbidities, an end to the use of solitary confinement as punishment, and the positive exercise of humanitarian parole for those in discretionary detention. You can read a copy of the petition here.

The students then continued to the pods holding detained men. "We asked detained people to walk us through their typical day. I was shocked at what they said," said Gonzalez. Because there are no windows or clocks in the pods, their days begin with Baker turning on blinding fluorescent overhead lighting at 5:00 a.m., seven days a week.

Once the day has started, immigrants at Baker have a short time to be up and dressed before breakfast is brought to the pod. Breakfast every day consists of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a miniature apple. Swanepoel noted that the bread for the sandwiches is sometimes old or moldy.

Lunch and dinner bring no solace to the men and women held at Baker. The same cafeteria produces "gray meat," as many in Baker called it. "One man told me that dinner most nights was a mixture of leftover food from the past several days," said Rudd. Some detained men were able to keep their food trays for students to view: a macaroni dish that incorporated some meat used in a previous meal and overcooked carrots. People reported worms or bugs in their meals. Moreover, there was considerable concern among men and women at Baker that the meals were not nutritious enough to sustain them. Most detained people reported that they were still hungry after meals.

Detained men and women at Baker are given outdoor recreation time only for an hour a day and not on weekends. However, Baker enforces a strict dress code that demands all detained people keep their jumpsuits fully buttoned up and over their T-shirts, even when they are outside in blistering temperatures. Because Baker only provides clean clothes to detained people twice a week, they are forced to wear and sleep in sweaty and dirty clothes for three more days before fresh changes of clothes are handed out. The jail also forces the men and women to share shoes for rec time without sanitizing.

One man told Gonzales, "Baker only cleans the shower area every two weeks, and the entire pod reeks of fumes." Another told Valentin that he had to stomp on worms coming out of the shower drains to kill them before he could shower. People ration the small amount of soap they receive to clean the living areas themselves.

Even more concerning was the lack of appropriate medical care. Rudd reported a stark example: "I witnessed a man covered head to toe in a severe rash with multiple open wounds. Because the medical team was not giving him enough medicated cream to treat the rash, he would save butter from meals and rub it across his body on the worst parts of the rash to soothe himself."

A man with no prior history of epilepsy suffered a grand mal seizure, during which he fell and hit his head. After the episode, the man was never tested to see if the seizure stems from an underlying condition. He also had open wounds that would not heal. Baker's medical staff is also underprepared to treat the physical and psychiatric injuries that guards inflict on the detained men and women. Gonzalez reported that one man told her he was pepper-sprayed and beaten over the head for knocking on the door to ask a correctional officer a question. "He told me he has a skull fracture from when the guard attacked him and that Baker never treated him," said Gonzalez.

The clinic is working in a coalition with other groups to fight for better conditions for those detained at Baker County Detention Center.

Read more about Miami Law's Immigration Clinic