Amid Human Rights Violations, Advocates Urge Biden Administration to Terminate Contract with Baker County Detention Center

February 6, 2023

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Citing a pervasive history of abuse and human rights violations, groups call for immediate releases and closure of the facility

Jacksonville, FL69 community advocacy and legal organizations have delivered a letter to the Biden administration calling for immediate termination of the contract operating Baker County Detention Center (Baker) in Macclenny, Florida. The letter cites a well-documented history of abuse and unsafe conditions at the facility and demands all immigrants detained by ICE at Baker be released and not transferred to other ICE facilities. The Baker County Sheriff’s Office operates Baker under an Intergovernmental Service Agreement (IGSA) with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that has been in place since 2009.

Last month, the Shut Down Baker Coalition hosted a press conference at the Bryan Simpson United States Courthouse in Jacksonville. Joined by human rights advocates, immigration attorneys, directly impacted family members, and concerned community members, the Coalition highlighted Baker’s denial of access to legal counsel, ongoing medical neglect, illegal voyeurism against women, racial discrimination, inhumane use of solitary confinement, and retaliation against detained individuals for public reporting. The district courthouse has jurisdiction over the ongoing access to counsel lawsuit against Baker filed last year.

Years of extensive evidence shows that Baker has repeatedly harmed people in its custody. Baker has been at the center of multiple federal complaints, investigations and calls for closure, including multiple complaints with the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and a Prison Rape Elimination Act (“PREA”) complaint in November 2022. 

“ICE and the Baker County Sheriff’s Office have proved unable and unwilling to address the ongoing abuses at Baker,” said Andrea Jacoski, director of the Detention Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice. “Baker contracts with Armor Healthcare Correctional Services, the same medical provider that the federal government found wholly inadequate last year, resulting in the end of ICE detaining immigrants at the Glades County Detention Center. The medical neglect at Baker is in many ways worse, and ICE has failed to oversee that its subcontractors – the Baker County Sheriff’s Office and Armor Healthcare – comply with ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards. The only way to protect people from further harm is for ICE to immediately release those detained at Baker and terminate its contract with Baker County.”

“Incarcerating asylum seekers is inhumane, and many people at Baker have been transferred from other detention facilities,” said Lorena Del Pilar Bonilla, MD, FACP, at Doctors For Camp Closure. “We call for the closure of Baker County Detention Center in Florida. We advocate for the facility to be converted into a center that provides human services. This is one step in the movement towards comprehensive immigration reform.”

Since 2020, more than 140 complaints have been filed in Baker, and migrants are in physical danger,” said Guadalupe De La Cruz, director of Americans Friends Service Florida. “They experience inhumane conditions, plagued by a culture of harassment and negligence that results in system-wide abuses. Immigrants at Baker should be released, not transferred, out of Baker County Detention Center.”

“The abuses at Baker County Detention Center are pervasive, longstanding, and systemic. There is ample evidence showing gross medical neglect, abusive and discriminatory treatment, and inhumane living conditions that have been the subject of hundreds of complaints over the years,” said Katie Blankenship, deputy legal director at the ACLU of Florida. “It is clear that Baker County Sheriff’s Office is incapable of humanely and lawfully housing immigrants in ICE detention. ICE is aware of many urgent issues at this facility, and it’s their responsibility to take action and terminate its contract with Baker.”

“The situation at Baker County Detention Center is URGENT. The Baker Detention Center has been proven to be a danger to those forcibly detained within its walls, and human lives are at risk. These are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. We cannot wait one more minute while the Baker County Sheriff’s Office perpetuates the demonstrated abuses and ICE and the Biden Administration fail to intervene,” said Danielle Chanzes, North Central Florida Organizer of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “All of these institutions are failing us! Baker County Detention Center needs to be shut down immediately and the detainees should be allowed to pursue their legal claims for asylum and refuge as so many others have done before them.”

“For over a decade, ICE has ignored ongoing calls for intervention to ensure the safety of detained immigrants at Baker Detention Center. The Baker Sheriff’s Office has failed to comply with the minimum standards to detain immigrants for ICE for profit,” said Isabel Ruano, campaign organizer with Immigrant Action Alliance. “The Department of Homeland Security has neglected to enforce its guidelines and standards for detention. It is time to do the right thing and cancel the contract with Baker County. Individuals waiting for an immigration hearing should be released to their families and communities where they belong.” 

“Baker is emblematic of the deeply inhumane and traumatizing mass incarceration of migrants,” said Andrea Carcamo, policy director with Freedom for Immigrants. “Despite facing unconscionable abuses, people inside Baker continue to advocate for their freedom. We join their calls for liberation, calling on the Biden administration to embrace our shared values of fairness, dignity, and human rights for all people. These values will continue to be undermined each day Baker remains open, underscoring the urgent need for the release of everyone back to the safety of their families and communities.”

“If the Department of Homeland Security renews its contract with Baker County, it is participating in the active abuse and gross human rights violations happening at Baker County Detention Center. The government is tasked with respecting the rights of all individuals in our territory,” said Vilerka Bilbao, attorney with Bilbao Law LLC. “To ignore and willfully engage in unlawful human rights violations goes against all our democratic ideals. The Department of Homeland Security must ensure humane and dignified legal processes for every individual under its care. We don’t ask the government anything other than what the law requires–access to justice and accountability.”

The Baker County Sheriff’s Office and ICE have continuously violated federal detention standards, infringing on the rights and wellbeing of those at Baker and proving that the facility is beyond reform. The time for closure is now. Terminating the contract with Baker County would be a critical step toward the Administration’s goal of building a more fair, just, and efficient immigration system. The federal government must immediately cut its contract with Baker County, fully close the facility, and release all people detained at Baker to their communities and loved ones.