The atrocities at detention centers continue to make headlines with little to no changes and now a whistleblower is exposing inhumane treatment that exceeds what’s been reported in the past. Dawn Wooten was employed as a nurse at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia, which is operated by LaSalle Corrections, a private prison company. Advocacy groups filed a complaint on her behalf to the Office of the Inspector General alleging “jarring medical neglect” within the facility that includes an alarmingly high rate of hysterectomies on women without their knowledge or consent.
The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Homeland Security by advocacy groups Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. Wooten’s account was supported by interviews with an anonymous current member of Irwin’s medical staff and four people currently or recently detained there.
“Recently, a detained immigrant told Project South that she talked to five different women detained at ICDC between October and December 2019 who had a hysterectomy done,” the complaint states. “When she talked to them about the surgery, the women ‘reacted confused when explaining why they had one done.’ The woman told Project South that it was as though the women were ‘trying to tell themselves it’s going to be OK.’”
Among the unnamed women who had received a hysterectomy, one described the experience to an “experimental concentration camp.” Wooten refers to the gynecologist — who works outside the facility — as the “uterus collector,” saying that, “Everybody he sees, he’s taking all their uteruses out or he’s taken their tubes out. What in the world.”
Wooten, who is represented by the Government Accountability Project, also confirmed that many of the detained women told her that they didn’t understand why they were being forced into getting the procedure done. She shared that some of the non-Spanish speaking nurses obtained consent from detainees “by simply googling Spanish.”
One woman said she was not properly anesthetized during a procedure and overheard the doctor say he had mistakenly removed the wrong ovary leaving her sterile. Another detainee had to have a cyst drained and ended up getting a hysterectomy instead, according to the complaint.
“The forced hysterectomies of immigrants is violent, grotesque, and clearly unconstitutional. Once again, ICE reminds us that it has total disregard for the health, safety, and dignity of detained people,” the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted.
The forced hysterectomies of immigrants is violent, grotesque, and clearly unconstitutional. Once again, ICE reminds us that it has total disregard for the health, safety, and dignity of detained people. https://t.co/pnXaoVjimQ
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 14, 2020
The complaint also includes allegations of unsanitary conditions at the ICDC medical unit and refusing to test detainees for the coronavirus.
ICE has responded to the allegations with the following statement:
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) does not comment on matters presented to the Office of the Inspector General, which provides independent oversight and accountability within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. ICE takes all allegations seriously and defers to the OIG regarding any potential investigation and/or results. That said, in general, anonymous, unproven allegations, made without any fact-checkable specifics, should be treated with the appropriate skepticism they deserve.
Legal advocacy group Project South also submitted a complaint to the Inspector General on Wooten’s behalf, including similar testimony from interviews with detainees. Priyanka Bhatt, a staff attorney with the group, told The Intercept, “Ms. Wooten’s whistleblowing disclosures confirm what detained immigrants have been reporting for years — gross disregard for health and safety standards, lack of medical care, and unsanitary living conditions.”