Hudson Jail Hunger Strike Among Immigrant Detainees Over Phone Charges

Nina Bernstein of the NY Times hits the nail on the head in her article describing a hunger strike in Hudson County jail among immigrant detainees, recently moved into Hudson after the closure of Manhattan’s Varick Street detention center. Communication with lawyers, family and friends is difficult, if not impossible, and they are being gouged by phone charges.

Move Across Hudson Further Isolates Immigration Detainees

When federal authorities shut down New York City’s only immigration detention center last month, and sent most of its detainees to a county jail in New Jersey over protests by their advocates, Obama administration officials stressed that the jail was only a short drive from the city. But under a contract with a private telephone company, calls to detainees’ families and lawyers back in New York are decidedly long distance. The result is a 800 percent increase in the cost of a call, to more than 89 cents a minute, in a phone system so cumbersome that detainees say it impedes their ability to contest deportation or contact relatives. In protest, the detainees have sent appeals for help to the American Bar Association, signed by more than 180 detainees, and have threatened a hunger strike. They cite exorbitant telephone costs as their central grievance, but also complain of poor health care, confiscation of legal documents and mistreatment by guards at the jail, the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny.

The county response is carefully phrased (bolding mine):

No one is unwilling to listen to these concerns and to make sure that detainees are treated with respect and dignity,” said James Kennelly, a spokesman for Hudson County and the jail. “We take the care and custody of the detainees very seriously.”

This same spokesman told the Jersey Journal on March 1st in response to our complaints over a 90 day update rule for visitors lists – the rule delayed by months visits to our former Middlesex detainees and prevented us from visiting some of the detainees at all:

That was clearly miscommunication that we regret,” said county spokesman Jim Kennelly about the 90-day message. “We don’t want anyone in the detainee population or advocates for them thinking that we are trying to limit their access.”

We weren’t just thinking they were trying to limit our access.  Our access was very clearly limited.  They claim they’ve stopped limiting the detainees’ lists to 5 visitors. And that was the part I got to respond to, without seeing his exact quote first:

“Hudson County jail realized how arbitrary and unjust it was to limit detainees to visiting lists of five people,” said Karina Wilkinson, co-founder of Middlesex County Coalition for Immigration Rights. “That is a small piece of a huge problem. Immigrant detainees continue to be denied access to the community, lawyers and family.”

And if you weren’t born here, or can’t prove it, beware of which side of the street you ride your bike on, from the Times article.  It can mean life or death ICE issued press releases on two more deaths in detention in the last 5 days, a 36 year old Liberian woman and a 68 year old Guatemalan. Remind me why we’re detaining 68 year old men in detention centers with inadequate medical care?

One detainee who signed the petition is Orville Wayne Allen, 47, a longtime New York State resident who has spent more than 19 months in immigration custody without seeing an immigration judge, his fiancée, Desiree Williams, said. When a police officer in Mount Vernon stopped him for riding a bicycle on the wrong side of a street in 2008, she said, a database check turned up an order of deportation in absentia from the 1980s, something a lawyer had supposedly resolved years before.

Ms. Williams, who works weekdays, has not seen him since he was transferred last month, because the jail allows only weekday visits.

ICE detention standards clearly provide for weekend and holiday visits.  They are just unwilling to impose these standards on the county jails, even while they are paying over $12 million into Hudson county coffers, of federal tax dollars that could be better spent, if ICE would just review on a case by case basis who actually poses a flight risk or danger.  Mandatory detention has to end.  For more info about the national campaign, including about a hunger strike in Texas, go to the Dignity Not Detention website.

Comments (3)

  1. Bill Orr

    The disingenuous, misleading response of the county spokesman is not surprising. In effect he is defending the county’s opportunity to reap a lot of money at the expense of vulnerable, little-known members of our community. The jails of course save money by reducing visitation hours, creating a waiting period, limiting medical care, and providing cheap food.  

    The seemingly criminal practice of prisons and jails colluding with phone companies to charge inmates exorbitant telephone call prices has seemed intractable. The prisons and jails share the income with the phone company in this highly lucrative source of revenue.  In the lame duck session a part of one of the approved bills brought an end to this practice.  However, there was an outcry from correction departments about losing this income and their insistence that without these monies their budget would have to be further increased. As a result legislators caved in and removed this reform before voting for the bill.

    This telephone practice is predatory – in the best tradition of banks that take advantage of vulnerable people to ultimately screw them.  It should be stopped.

    Likewise county jails need more oversight across a broad range of their activities.

  2. Nick Lento

    No one just gives away a contract that allows for rapacious profit.   Someone got paid off.  IT would probably take an all out federal investigation using wiretaps etc to prove this out…..and that’s NOT likley!

    This has been going on in the prison industrial complex for decades.

    I used to work for a phone company and I would hear the tearful stories for relatives and friends of inmates looking for cheaper ways to stay in touch.

    The people being fucked over here have no political power and no money and they are vilified/demonized people to boot.    The problem is that many, if not most, eventually get out of jail….and having been fucked over like this isn’t likely to have made them into better human beings……quite the contrary, eh?

    Society is paying a very high price to keep the prison industrial complex rich, fat and happy.

  3. koleary

    not illegal.  Phone companies offer competing bids to the county jails based in large part on how much commission gets paid back to the jail.  The prison industrial complex is not a conspiracy theory.  There is a lot of money being made off the misery of others. Now county govt. is getting into the act by trying to turn the incarceration of people into a profit center.


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