PHOENIX and TUCSON – Earlier this week, 150 men detained at the Pinal County Jail (PCJ) in Florence, Arizona signed and released a letter documenting the facility’s deplorable conditions and calling on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end its detention contract with the jail. Approximately 70 men at the jail also began a hunger strike to protest the conditions at the jail. As of Wednesday, June 11, the men suspended their hunger strike, as ICE has committed to review their demands.

In their letter, the men document abuses including no contact visits with family, no outdoor recreation, verbal abuse and failure to accommodate religious needs. The letter from the men states in part:

“We believe ICE puts us in this county jail as punishment and in discrimination to us. It is a form of mental and psychological torture to put us in this jail so detainees don’t fight their cases and just give up and get deported. And indeed, many detainees choose not to fight their cases than to be incarcerated in these conditions […] We are humans and have rights, our families should not be separated and destroyed due to this money making scheme ICE has with Pinal County jail.”

While ICE officials and the agency’s detention standards describe immigration detention as non-punitive, conditions at PCJ can only be described as extreme and abusive. In addition to the letters sent by people detained at the jail over many years, serious and persistent human rights violations have been well-documented by the ACLU of Arizona, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the University of California Davis School of Law, Human Rights First, and the Detention Watch Network.

ICE currently maintains a contract with Pinal County for 625 detention beds, part of the nationwide 34,000 detention bed quota. This unprecedented quota guarantees the need for detention and essentially forces the use of facilities that have poor track records like PCJ.

Earlier this year, Pinal County submitted a letter to ICE demanding an increase in the rate they receive for detaining immigrants. Given the extensive documentation of substandard and abusive conditions, advocates call on ICE to end its immigration detention contract with the county.