Federal detainees in Pinal Co. Jail complain about conditions - Tucson News Now

Federal detainees in Pinal Co. Jail complain about conditions

FLORENCE, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Immigrant activists fighting for better housing conditions for detainees in the Pinal county jail say Homeland Security officials have told them they will review the detainees concerns.

The jail has a federal contract with Immigrations and Customs (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security to house more than 600 illegal immigrants who have been busted for committing crimes in the United States.

The jail is one of five, and the second largest facility in Arizona that is used  by the federal government to hold immigrants in long-term detention.

Immigrants rights activists say it is the only facility in the United States that does not allow prisoners to see family in person.

Activists are also complaining about conditions inside the facility, the lack of enough food, medical care, and access to outdoor recreation.

Tucson News Now asked Pinal County Sheriff's officials if we could take our cameras inside their jail.

The sheriff's office responded with "the invitation for members of the media to tour our facility firsthand is always open."

We visited the Pinal County jail on Monday, and got a chance to tour the whole facility, and talk to Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Tucson News Now asked Babeu about the hunger strike dozens of federal detainees had gone on, to protest conditions.

Immigrant rights activist Raul Alcaraz Ochoa said it was meant to be a strong statement made by detainees in the facility.

"The hunger strike is an act of resistance and an act of desperation that the conditions are inhumane and so abusive, we are resorting to denying food to our bodies."

Babeu said the whole statement about the hunger strike was not entirely true.  He sent Tucson News Now a statement saying:

"70ICE detainees refused their provided meals, yet during this time period, theyate commissary food which included: macaroni & cheese, crackers, candy,rice, pasta, chips, chili, peanut butter, tortillas, chicken, tuna and otherfoods. DetentionWatch Network is the same group that falsely claimed last year that we putworms in the food.  They are politically driven and believe detaineesshould be given amnesty. ICE medical staff does an excellent job providingthese detainees the best health care most have ever received in theirlives.  They were aware of this situation and monitored the detaineeswithout any reported medical concerns."


"The county jail will say anything they can to invalidate the detainees movement to get better living conditions.  The situation and conditions in the jail there are horrifying, report after report has shown that, it has the worst reputation in the country," said Ochoa.

Babeu said on June 6th, 2011 his jail was the only one in Arizona to receive national accreditation through the National Sheriff's Association.  They passed with 100% compliance of the legal-based guidelines set as the means to assist jails to become safer, more secure and to pro-actively protect themselves against liability.

On February 11th, 2014 the Pinal County Jail was re-accredited based on 658 legal based standards and again received a 100% compliance rating, according to Babeu.

ICE conducted their last annual inspection of the Pinal County jail last June, 2013.  Babeu said the jail was given an "acceptable" rating by the evaluators.  The next annual inspection is expected to take place later this month.

Activists said detainees should not be housed in a jail or prison like environment.  Many of them needed asylum, or had desperate circumstances.  They belonged in a separate facility.

Babeu said while they were in the same building, federal detainees were housed separately from county inmates.

The county provided control and supervision, but ICE was ultimately in charge of them.

Babeu said his office got the same list of complaints from detainees every year, along with the same letter from activists working with the ACLU.

"They're treated very well.  This is a jail.  This is not a country club.  Last year one of their complaint's was they didn't have adequate fitness facilities.  This isn't LA Fitness.  This is a jail."

Babeu said inmates and detainees got to participate in recreational activities everyday.

Tucson News Now asked Babeu about the lack of contact visits with family members.

Babeu said the Pinal County Jail was one of few in the state to have video visitation.  This meant inmates and detainees could talk to family members all over the country, without having them come to Pinal County. He called it state of the art technology.

Tucson News Now also asked Babeu about the cost of phone calls.  Activists said it was expensive, and a 15-minute call could cost a detainee about $20.  Babeu said the phone contracts were bid out by the county, he had no control over that, but it was in line with jails throughout the country.

Immigrant activists say ICE officials have told them they will review the detainees demands. Activists plan to ask the federal government not to renew it's contract with Pinal County, as it is set for renewal later this summer. 



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