Complaint filed against Irwin Co. Detention Center sparks concern

Updated: Sep. 22, 2020 at 5:47 PM EDT
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OCILLA, Ga. (WALB) - Four Georgia immigration support agencies filed a complaint against Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC).

The complaint, first filed Sept. 14, outlined a number of alleged issues within the detention center, including COVID-19 protocol concerns and the shredding and fabrication of medical records, and raised concerns about the rate of hysterectomies performed.

The agencies say previous employee Dawn Wooten came forward after the warden demoted her. Wooten said she was demoted because she, in part, “has been asking hard questions."

After being demoted from a full-time nurse to an “as-needed” nurse, Wooten said she came forward to the Government Accountability Project and Project South with her concerns.

A private prison company, LaSalle Southwest Corrections, operates the facility, as well as detention locations in Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana.

According to the company’s website, part of the company’s duty is to manage healthcare within its facilities.

Leeann Culbreath, a volunteer co-chair with the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, said COVID-19 concerns are the main reason she wanted to move forward with the complaint to the inspector general and Department of Homeland Security.

“The first hope is that those who are currently in detention here and elsewhere, are released, and returned safely and returned to their families, or to sponsors in the community. Or, if they wish to be deported, that they can be deported safely and speedily and returned to their family during the COVID epidemic," said Culbreath.

According to the complaint, detainees reported not being able to social distance, not having access to PPE and medical staffing being too few.

Activists like Selena Herrera protested out at the Irwin County Detention Center after they...
Activists like Selena Herrera protested out at the Irwin County Detention Center after they learned of the allegations listed in the complaint.(Selena Herrera)

Lawyer Elizabeth Matherne said she’s spent years working to help women and men at the ICDC facility.

“Well, I’ve been down here in South Georgia, working at the Irwin County Detention Center exclusively since 2017. Before that, I was in Atlanta and represented people detained across Georgia, including Irwin County Detention Center since 2010," said Matherne.

Recently, she learned an official complaint against the detention center was filed after a previous ICDC employee came forward about healthcare concerns in the facility.

Matherne said complaints about gynecological care in the detention center are not new.

“The thing that was sort of most prevalent and most disturbing to me was the fact that they told me they were receiving really rough treatment by the doctor. And that the doctor was not talking to them, not without explaining what was being done, and hurt them in physical like in pelvic exams," said Matherne.

Other people across South Georgia felt the shockwaves that the complaint left behind.

Selena Herrera, a local activist, said the COVID-19 pandemic and other health-related concerns listed in the complaint hit too close to home.

“It’s very it’s close to home for me. To me, it’s like, you know, that could have been my mom. That could have been my sister, you know, so that’s really what drove me to get involved in everything," said Herrera.

Herrera said local groups will continue to bring light to this issue until they feel ‘justice is served,’ like they did this past weekend.

“It was just a peaceful march and a peaceful caravan. We went to ICDC. We were right there, like literally right up the road from it, and then we just marched through the street. But we did get like the permits and all that, you know, to close down that street, to be able to walk through there," said Herrera.

Herrera said there’s still time if you want to get involved.

“They can just reach out to any group that is a part of, you know, helping immigrant rights. They can get involved with that, they can sign petitions, they can donate, and they can get informed. Really and truly, that’s the biggest help, is for everyone to get informed and for everyone know what is going on. Once everybody knows about it, and they know it’s not right, you know, they’re gonna want to do something," said Herrera.

WALB reached out to the detention center’s warden and managing company for response and have not heard back.

If you are a current or past detainee and experienced any type of medical malpractice, Matherne said you can call her office at (229) 472-5775.

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