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Hi everyone!

I’m Spencer Woodman, a reporter with ICIJ. I’ve taken Amy’s chair this week — don’t worry she’ll be back soon — because we’ve just published a major new investigation into immigration detention in the United States. Specifically, it looks at how the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has placed thousands of immigrants from all around the world into solitary confinement cells in recent years.

Solitary confinement — typically 22 to 24 hours a day locked alone in a cell, with little human interaction — can lead to extreme mental and emotional distress. Sleeplessness, chronic depression, hallucinations, diminished impulse control and suicidal tendencies are documented side effects. The United Nations says that isolating the mentally ill, or anyone longer than 15 days, can amount to torture.

Nonetheless, ICE has used solitary confinement as a go-to tool to manage the swelling number of people held in detention centers in the U.S., our five-month Solitary Voices investigation has found. We worked in collaboration with newsrooms in Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and here in the U.S. to track down immigrants who spent time in U.S. solitary cells and to uncover widespread misuse of the practice.

In many cases, the results have been devastating. Even months after being released from isolation, former detainees said they struggled to return to everyday life.

Our latest investigation found widespread misuse — and overuse — of solitary confinement in detention centers overseen by ICE.

Our investigation started with a simple, two-line public records request I made to ICE in early 2017. Nearly two years later, they sent me a CD in the mail that held a massive spreadsheet detailing thousands of solitary confinement placements.

This dataset was only the beginning. Together with our partners, we combed the spreadsheet for patterns and stories. We found a whistleblower inside the agency who confirmed the trends we were seeing in the data. And — perhaps most importantly — we traveled the world to meet with dozens of current and former ICE detainees.

We are tremendously grateful for those who came forward to tell their stories.

If you have any questions about this investigation or any ideas on how we can further our reporting, please let us know. You can send a note to this email.

That’s it for now! Next week, Amy will be back in your inbox.

Thanks everyone,

Spencer Woodman

ICIJ reporter

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