The U.S. Office of the Inspector General is calling for the immediate removal of all Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees from the Torrance County Detention Center.

According to a federal report obtained by Hearst’s National Investigative Unit and Target 7, the Inspector General said ICE needs to take immediate action “to address the critical staffing shortages that have led to safety risks and unsanitary living conditions at the Torrance County Detention Facility.” The report outlines that the understaffing at the Torrance County Detention Facility has prevented the facility from maintaining a safe, secure and humane environment for ICE detainees that are held in the jail. The facility uses eight of its 11 facilities to house ICE detainees. Federal inspectors surveyed all 157 cells in each of the eight housing units.


Staffing Shortages

The federal report says the facility was understaffed by 46%. The facility had 133 full-time employees with 112 vacancies, with 94 of those vacancies in security. The numbers noted were at the time of the inspection by the OIG.

In December 2020, ICE issued a report related to medical staff shortages also indicating in that report that issues with staffing extended beyond medical vacancies. ICE said in that previous report that a comprehensive plan needed to be developed to meet the staff shortages. Federal inspectors say the staffing shortage continued at the time of the inspection, noting current staff was working six overtime shifts per month to “bridge the gap.”

Staff at the detention center noted in the report the facility’s remote location and the hour-long drive from Albuquerque as a potential reason for understaffing. CoreCivic, the owner of the facility, explored hiring incentives like housing for staff, but the facility remained understaffed.

Unsanitary conditions

Federal inspectors found issues with sinks and toilets being clogged, running continuously, or not working. Faucets in the facility had cold and hot water buttons missing and in some cases, not producing hot water.

Source: DHS OIG Report Photos

The federal report noted detainees were not getting adequate access to clean drinking water. The broken sinks and water fountains being restricted from use due to COVID-19 were labeled as the main reason for the issues. The report claims detainees were having to get their water from a communal faucet used for filling mop buckets.

Source: DHS OIG Report Photos

Inspectors say they found mold and water leaks in the facility, leaving the danger of falls from those leaks and potential health issues from mold. It was noted problems found by the inspectors went unresolved for 12 or more days.

Source: DHS OIG Report Photos

Search location by ZIP code Federal Inspectors call for removal of all ICE detainees from Torrance County Detention Center

Security in the Facility

Federal inspectors report effective security requirements were not being met at the facility. It was noted that the detainees were not properly supervised or monitored in their housing units. Control rooms were noted as being understaffed and having one officer to watch over detainees in four housing units. Blind spots were also noted as a factor in staff being able to monitor detainees. Some control rooms were noted in the report as being dark and without officers.

Source: DHS OIG Report Photos

Inspectors say when they questioned management at the facility about the control room issues, facility management said officers monitor detainees with cameras and electronic doors in a master control room when no officers are present in the primary control rooms. Inspectors found the system to be inadequate when they saw a housing unit door left open. A detainee interviewed by federal inspectors said they felt unsafe and felt that they would not be able to get staff attention if an emergency were to have happened.

Source: DHS OIG Report Photos

Detainees were also found by inspectors to be dumping water from a second-story area to clean a housing area.

Comments from ICE

According to the report, ICE did not agree with the OIG’s recommendation to relocate all detainees from the Torrance County Detention Center. ICE also disputed the overall report stating the OIG “ignored facts presented to it in order to achieve preconceived conclusions.” The OIG disputed that claim saying the independent oversight had documented support for the findings.

Comment from CoreCivic

Target 7 reached out to CoreCivic for comment on the report. Below is the full e-mail response from CoreCivic:

The inspectors responsible for this report acted in a deeply unethical manner, including misrepresenting evidence to negatively portray the facility. Our general counsel detailed these concerns in a letter that was sent to both ICE and the Inspector General (attached), which I urge you to review. For example:

This deliberate effort to falsely portray our company and this facility in a negative light is even more disturbing because it was done under the guise of legitimate oversight. We’re asking for an immediate review of the conduct of the inspectors.

In terms of the staffing concerns, this is a challenge faced by secure facilities, public and private, all around the country. (Not to mention numerous other industries.) First, as ICE noted in its response, the facility was appropriately staffed for the population size at the time of the inspection. We’ve also taken significant steps to attract and retain talented people through both traditional approaches like online advertising and more creative approaching like visiting local neighborhoods with employment flyers. – Steve Owen, Vice President, Communications

To read the full report, click here.