UW Center for Human Rights reveals violations in the Northwest Detention Center

After being established in 2009, the center has now shared their findings with the Tacoma Human Rights Commission.

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains discussions involving sexual assault.

On October 9, the UW Center for Human Rights shared their review of the Northwest Detention Center with the Tacoma Human Rights Commission. The Presentation was given by UW professor Angelina Snodgrass Godoy and UWT Associate Professor Michael Foreman.  

The Northwest Detention Center is an immigrant detention center located on the Tacoma tideflats. It is an ICE processing location but is operated by a private company, GEO. Since opening in 2004, there have been various protests, strikes, and lawsuits against GEO, ICE, and the facility itself.  

The review of the facility revealed multiple human right abuses, despite minimal cooperation from ICE and GEO. The abuse includes sexual abuse, medical neglect, and excessive use of force. By presenting their findings to the Commission, the Human Rights Center hopes to open avenues that will shine a light on the conditions of the facility.  

“It was deficient, egregiously so, by international humanitarian standards,” said Godoy. “This is a case in which all of us are collectively failing these individuals…there’s rules at the federal level, at the local level, and institutions that are supposed to be acting and they aren’t.”  

One major concern within the facility is access to healthcare. Many detainees have reported that their medical requests are often ignored. One man from El Salvador reported head, throat, and chest pain along with an inability to sleep or breathe. The facility commander responded by saying, “this is not a grievance.” The man visited the clinic twice and received no care.  

Godoy also reported claims of sexual assault with no response from the facility.  

“There’s probably the strongest protections against sexual assault and abuse thanks to US federal law,” said Godoy. “I had the very disturbing experience of watching these tools fail in real time.” 

Despite multiple victims calling the police directly to report crimes, detainees were informed they must go through the guards to file a report, a practice described by Godoy as “not in compliance with PREA rules.”  

Following the report, The Tacoma Human Rights Commission offered minimal solutions to address the grievances within the facility.  

“We’d love to see committees taking this up in their next committee meetings,” said Commissioner Robbi Johnston. “We can talk about what actions we can take to collectively work together to shine more light on this issue”  

Professor Foreman had an idea of steps that could be taken to help those in the detention center.  

“One of the larger problems with the detention center is lack of transparency,” said Foreman. “Surely the commission can publicize the issues. I think it’s extremely important because otherwise what happens in the northwest detention center seems to just be really hidden.” 

Foreman stated that just hearing how people care and are trying to help can improve conditions for detainees in the facility.