“Systemic failure, cover-up, and under-reporting of abuse”

“Systemic failure, cover-up, and under-reporting of abuse”
Monday March 24, 2008

Dear Dr. Miller:

Dr. Miller, thank you for your continued support and assistance; it means a lot to me.

I wanted to share what I see as an important parallel between the abuse suffered by children and the abuse suffered by immigration detainees in New Jersey prisons, especially since 9/11 and in the style of Abu Grabe prison abuses. Note that here in New Jersey, our Division of Youth and Family Services has been repeatedly in the news for years for allowing children already identified as at-risk to continue to be abused, in some cases being killed by their caregivers. Repeated reforms have apparently done little to significantly change this disturbing pattern. Neither does it touch upon the abuse that occurs in homes that is not even prohibited by law and falls under the radar of DYFS, systematically ignored and covered up by adults who should know better. New Jersey has the unfortunate reputation of being the “most politically corrupt” state in the US. Maybe there is a stronger connection here than many of us would care to imagine.

By characterizing both innocent children and immigration detainees as incorrigible criminals, their caretakers justify the abuse, and then keep silent about it. Their only “crime” appears to be the fact that they are alive. By being silent about the abuse, caretakers provide no recourse, no grievance procedure, no opportunity to speak out against the injustice that the victims of abuse continue to suffer. Children don’t have due process of law or 5th or 6th amendment rights here in the US yet, and the detainees have been stripped of theirs, in violation of the Geneva Convention. Especially for children, but also for detainees who are forced into a position of powerlessness, this abuse has pathological consequences. Indeed, those in power “want to kill” the abused, while projecting their own pathological motives onto them. What kind of monster would inflict pain on an innocent? Someone who has projected and split off a part of themselves, avenging their own need to be powerful and controlling, while annihilating the other. This is a classic example of scapgoating.

The following is excerpted from “Voices of the Disappeared: An Investigative Report of New Jersey Immigration Detention” (Revision 1, October 1, 2007) You can read the full report at: http://www.nj-civilrights.org/literature/VoicesoftheDisappeared.pdf.

“The attitudinal issues are both critical and paradoxical. Prison officers and guards may view immigrant detainees as ipso facto criminals, incorrigibles who can only be controlled with brutality. In some facilities, in defiance of standards, the two prison populations are physically commingled; they are certainly so in the minds of those who keep them. The Passaic County Sheriff casually characterized detainees on public television as “criminal aliens,” guilty of “murder…rape…sodomy” [CNN: “Lou Dobbs Show.” 1/3/06], while his public spokesperson routinely attributed pathological motives to detainee petitioners and hunger strikers. Many detainees say that since 2001
it has become commonplace for officials to call them “terrorists.” This attitude has persisted despite immigrant roundups netting not a single connection to alleged terrorist activity. Those that detainees encounter on a day-to-day basis–including not just authorities but fellow-prisoners–are thus given license to view them as worse than criminals. We have seen glaring examples of institutionalized failure even to review complaints. Mark Gary Hough, a British national with an American wife and family, tried to bring suit for a brutal beating he had received during detention at the Florence (AZ) Processing Center in 1994. The total lack of grievance procedure there meant a ten-year struggle against the machinery of institutional, systemwide cover- up. In effect, he had to try to define due process for himself. In an effort to challenge his first deportation and pursue his abuse case, he re-entered the country illegally in 1997. He was
detained again at Passaic County Jail in 2002-2003. Since the ruling on his plea against deportation came first, his ten-year struggle resulted in the failure of both legal challenges. The judge observed that while Hough might well have been deprived of constitutional rights in his first detention, he no longer had standing because of his illegal re-entry. The result was, in effect, a complete whitewash of his detention abuse case. (Because it is in some respects typical of abuse complaints here and
throughout the system, we have included his deposition among the case studies cited below.) Complaint processing may only have worsened over the next ten years as the widened but poorly prepared detention system scrambled to meet post-1996 and then post-2001 challenges. In 2004, Juan Gonzales-Cifuentes, a Mexican bringing suit for assault against Bergen County Jail in 2004, was told at the time of the incident that the jail had no grievance form or grievance process. He was forced to ask his family to hire a lawyer to file a complaint in his behalf. He also refused to accept the systemic failure. He wrote to ICE targeting “the [lack of] grievance system” and pointing to what he and his lawyers called a “malicious cover-up” of this rights violation [letter
G-C to Trella, 6-21-2004].

Both examples underscore a reality of prison abuse familiar to human rights advocates everywhere: that authority is often used not just to commit abuse but to erase it. The result is official impunity for the perpetrators and bitter frustration for the victims. Few alleged police or guard brutality cases have actually gone to law. With no court-appointed attorneys and no comprehensive equivalent of Legal Aid for detainees, indeed within a jail subculture that encourages official silence and even retaliation, we know that abuse is not just vastly under-grieved (in any official sense) but underreported. Few victims or their families actually have resources to hire lawyers. Some lack the literacy skills to appeal to humanitarian or rights organizations or seek out sympathetic reporters.”

Very truly yours,


AM: Your letter is absolutely right. What you describe is connected to the cruelty of our upbringing. But what do you expect me to do (by writing your letter) except what I already did (to explain and denounce the origins of these mechanisms)?