Our Voices

Report reveals continued horrific practices at ICE jail in Louisiana, demands closure

An ICE jail in Louisiana operated by a private prison company remains at full capacity, even after government investigators decried its abusive culture and the Biden Administration pledged to seriously reduce its population.

Hoping to change that course, a group of human rights organizations have released a report detailing the Winn Correctional Center’s continued, horrific practices.

The Winn Anthology of Abuse is co-authored by Detention Watch Network, Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Project (NIPNLG), and RFK Human Rights.

The 14-page report details the history of the notorious facility, which operated first as a private prison before Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began detaining immigrants there in 2019.

A 2016 investigative report by Mother Jones revealed shocking practices, including guards regularly beating and pepper spraying inmates, widespread tolerance of sexual abuse, and dangerously inadequate mental health services and protocols.

Those detained under the subsequent ICE contract have not fared better. Following the outbreak of COVID-19, a Marshallese man held there died of the disease, as did two facility employees, the report notes. Others have suffered severe violence, torture, and resulting physical harm, including three men whose necks and wrists were injured after guards kneeled on them to force them to fingerprint their own deportation orders, a common practice at Winn.

Conditions at Winn further exacerbate existing health issues and cause new illnesses, both physical and mental. The facility deprives immigrants of basic human needs, including clean drinking water and food. Immigrants detained at the facility say they can see that the water is yellow. They regularly receive cold, expired, raw, and rotten food. Living spaces are “filthy,” with black mold and water leaking through the roof onto sleeping areas. Conditions are so poor and dehumanizing that many immigrants express suicidal ideation and a few have attempted suicide while imprisoned there.

Other cruel practices reported by immigrants detained at Winn include systemic medical neglect, racist, homophobic, and transphobic abuse, forced deportations, and retaliation against immigrants advocating for basic needs like a wheelchair.

Nearly all requests for release on parole at Winn are denied without real consideration, a practice that a federal judge enjoined in a 2019 lawsuit accusing ICE of unlawfully refusing to release asylum seekers held in Louisiana. Still, in 2020, the New Orleans ICE Field Office denied nearly 94 percent of all requests for redetermination of release on parole and immigration judges at Winn denied bond 85 percent of the time.

In 2021, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties issued a scathing report of Winn, documenting a “culture and conditions that can lead to abuse,” urging for the immediate cessation of any transfers or new bookings and further recommending that ICE draw down the population to zero until conditions were improved.

Since 2022, attorneys from Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, the ACLU of Louisiana, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Southern Poverty Law Center have jointly led monthly factfinding and legal outreach trips to isolated Louisiana detention centers. Their reports confirm that abuse continues after the publication of government inspection records.

RFK Human Rights Director of Strategic U.S. Litigation Sarah Gillman believes the immediate closure of Winn is the only way to stop ongoing abuse. “Our trips to Winn and other Louisiana detention centers are full of dozens of examples of medical abuse, retaliatory solitary confinement, and denial of access to legal counsel,” Gillman said. “The only solution in my opinion is to shut down immigration detention for good.”

Read the report in full here.