47 ICE Detainees Released From Bristol County; Judge Wants Virus Testing Reports For Those Still Held

A federal judge in Boston ordered the Bristol County sheriff's office to begin submitting reports on the number of federal immigration detainees in its correctional facilities tested for the coronavirus, as well as any test results.

It's unclear to date how many people, if any, detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and housed in Bristol County have been tested for the virus. This court order will provide the first definitive look at testing among federal immigration detainees in Bristol County.

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson's office has repeatedly referred WBUR inquiries on the matter to ICE officials. ICE, in turn, has referred WBUR to a compilation of confirmed positive cases available on the agency's website.

U.S. District Court Judge William Young has overseen the release of dozens of ICE detainees from Bristol County correctional facilities on a rolling basis as a result of a federal class action suit filed on behalf of plaintiffs represented by Lawyers for Civil Rights. To date, 47 ICE detainees have been released in an effort to reduce the population density and afford individuals the ability to keep physical distance from one another.

The lawsuit followed concerns from ICE detainees about overcrowding and the inability to practice national and local guidelines on physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There have been no positive test results reported among ICE detainees in Massachusetts, though Bristol County has reported six confirmed positive cases among correctional officers and other staff members. Hodgson has repeatedly refuted reports about inhumane conditions and argued safety measures are being taken to stem any outbreak of coronavirus in the correctional facilities.

Oren Sellstrom, an attorney with Lawyers for Civil Rights, said regular reporting of testing and results would help alleviate unrest among detainees.

"It's quite anxiety-producing for everyone to hear that people are being tested and not knowing the results," he told the court Friday.

The Supreme Judicial Court ordered reporting of tests among inmates in state and local prisons and jails, but according to Matthew Segal of the ACLU of Massachusetts, it's unclear whether that regular reporting includes ICE detainees in Bristol, Franklin and Plymouth County sheriff's offices — the three county jails where federal immigration detainees are housed in the state.

"We believe we should be getting that information, but we haven't been — at least not from everyone — and so that's been a little difficult for us to track," Segal said.

Young also ordered, at the request of the plaintiffs, that each detainee be released with a full list of conditions imposed by ICE.

The court will hear arguments on the release of the remaining 87 ICE detainees at Bristol County on May 7.

This article was originally published on April 24, 2020.


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Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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