Federal contractor to pay in detainee abuse case

Some 1,600 immigrants who say they were abused at the Elizabeth detention center in New Jersey between August 1994 and June 1995 have won a $2.5 million settlement from the private prison company which operated the facility. The suit was brought in March 1996 against Esmor Correctional Services of Melville, NY; the company is now based in Florida and is called Correctional Services Corp. In settling the class action suit, Brown v. Esmor, the company acknowledged no wrongdoing. After legal fees are paid, some 1,600 detainees–many of whom have since been deported–will divide about $1.5 million, with plaintiffs’ awards based on how long they were held and what abuses they suffered. Attorneys for the two sides signed off on the settlement on May 19 of this year; Dickinson R. Debevoise, US District Judge in Newark, approved it on Aug. 10.

Nine other people who were held at the Elizabeth detention center are continuing to pursue a separate but linked lawsuit, Jama v. Esmor, which was filed in June 1997 as Jama v. INS. Last November, Judge Debevoise–in a reversal of his 1998 decision–dismissed the Jama plaintiffs’ claims against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and its officials, saying the government cannot be sued, but allowed the suit to go forward against Esmor (now CSC). The settlement in the Brown case stipulates that any future settlement for the Jama plaintiffs will have to roughly match the amounts the Brown plaintiffs are due to receive.

Esmor lost its federal contract to operate the Elizabeth facility shortly after detainees fed up with constant abuses staged a rebellion in June 1995. Federal officials conducted an investigation and found that Esmor’s poorly trained guards abused the detainees physically and mentally, gave them spoiled food and deprived them of sleep. The detention center reopened in January 1997 and is now operated by another private company, Corrections Corp. of America, based in Nashville, Tennessee. (AP, Sept. 7; Text of Settlement, Sept. 19)

From Immigration News Briefs, Sept. 17

See our last posts on torture and abuse of detained immigrants.