Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 09/2014

Jails & Jumpsuits: Transforming the US Immigration Detention System

October 2011

Human Rights First


Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) committed to transform the U.S. immigration detention system by shifting it away from its longtime reliance on jails and jail-like facilities, to facilities with conditions more appropriate for the detention of civil immigration law detainees. At the time of these commitments, in announcements in August and October of 2009, DHS and ICE recognized that detention beds were in facilities that were “largely designed for penal, not civil, detention.” In fact, many criminal correctional facilities actually offer less restrictive conditions than those typically found in immigration detention facilities, and corrections experts have confirmed that less restrictive conditions can help ensure safety in a secure facility. DHS and ICE have consistently affirmed intentions to carry out the planned reforms in a budget-neutral way.