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Plymouth County jail needs more oversight

Immigrant detainees’ allegations of mistreatment and abuse at the only ICE detention facility in the state must be investigated.

Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald talks to a reporter in 2019.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Lack of sufficient hot water. Routine abuse with racial epithets. Erratic health care, including important prescriptions that were discontinued without notice.

Those are just a few of the complaints that have piled up about the treatment of immigrant detainees at Plymouth County Correctional Facility, the sole remaining facility in Massachusetts that houses foreign nationals who have violated civil immigration rules, and those awaiting possible deportation, on behalf of US Immigrant and Customs Enforcement.

According to family members, immigrant advocates, and lawyers — who have been sounding the alarm and protesting detention conditions for the past few months — a correctional officer reportedly attacked a detainee so violently in November that the immigrant split his tongue. After returning to the detention facility from the hospital, the detainee allegedly went on a hunger strike for seven days in protest. In another alleged incident last year, “correctional officers reportedly dragged an older man out of his cell, despite being told by other detained individuals that the man was having trouble communicating in English,” according to that letter sent by a group of advocacy organizations, including the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network and Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts, to ICE’s Boston field office.

Correctional officers often refer to immigrant detainees with racial epithets and other xenophobic and discriminatory language, according to advocates. Other complaints include detainees who alleged retaliation from officers when individuals complain to ICE.


The list of grievances goes on and on. Ultimately, these are all allegations. But they’re serious enough to warrant an investigation. It’s why US Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey sent a joint letter in early January to the US Department of Homeland Security and ICE requesting a federal review of the Plymouth facility. The federal government must pay attention to Plymouth and make sure that Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald and his staff are respecting detainees’ rights and ensuring their safety.


“I am confident the claims by some described in the letter are unfounded,” a spokesperson for McDonald told The Patriot Ledger. “This is a safe, secure, and modern facility staffed by humane men and women. The sheriff is proud of our staff, their record, and their professionalism.”

If that’s the case, McDonald should welcome any federal probe. And he should be able to easily and promptly respond to Warren and Markey’s inquiry. The senators from Massachusetts asked a few pointed questions about conditions at the Plymouth facility: “When a detainee requests medical attention or medication (e.g., an inhaler), how long do they wait to receive it? . . . How often are translators made available to detainees? . . . How often are the staff and detainee population tested for COVID-19? Are all staff members vaccinated?”

Some immigrant advocates would like ICE to terminate the Plymouth contract, given how poorly the facility is allegedly run. But that would result in the transfer of current detainees to out-of-state facilities, which would place an extra burden on the detainees’ family members if they live in Massachusetts, or complicate access to their local attorneys.

“Detainees should have access to a safe, dignified, and lawful environment,” Warren and Markey wrote in their letter. “ICE officials and contractors must be transparent about how they treat people in their custody, and held accountable if they have refused to treat people in their custody consistent with basic human dignity and DHS rules and regulations.” The agency ought to look into the allegations and ensure that detainees are held in humane conditions — in Plymouth, and across the country.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.