Settlement With Bristol County Sheriff Would Uphold Release Of Immigration Detainees

Bristol County Jail and House of Correction in Dartmouth. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Bristol County Jail and House of Correction in Dartmouth. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A settlement deal was reached Tuesday in a class action lawsuit against the Bristol County Sheriff's Office that sought to release all immigration detainees at the county's house of correction during the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit, filed by Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) in March 2020, claimed the correctional facility's holding of detainees was inhumane. Among the suit's arguments were that the detention facility was seriously overcrowded, making it impossible for detainees to socially distance. It also noted that detainees lacked adequate access to personal protective equipment.

Since the lawsuit was filed, dozens of people represented in the suit were granted bail, remaining under the supervision of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement while their immigration proceedings play out.

"The case dramatically reduced the number of people held in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention at BCHOC – from 148 to seven – allowing dozens of civil immigration detainees to return to their families and safely quarantine at home," Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of LCR, said in a statement Tuesday.

The lawsuit is believed to be the first of its kind brought during the pandemic on behalf of every immigrant detainee in Bristol County custody, not just those individuals with serious medical conditions.

If approved by the court, the settlement will uphold the release of those individuals out on bail, secure the release of six additional individuals, and allow the remaining seven detained individuals the option of transferring to another New England ICE facility, according to a press release.

In June 2020, a group of immigrants detained in a unit of the Plymouth County Correctional Facility also sought release because of risks associated with COVID-19. The ACLU of Massachusetts and others represented the class members over the course of nearly a year, during which time the immigrant detainee population in the unit was reduced by 90%. Earlier this month, the voluntary dismissal of the suit was approved in federal court. Those class members remaining in detention have been offered the vaccine for the coronavirus, according to the ACLU.


Headshot of Shannon Dooling

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



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