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.