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Sen. Murray pushes for outside investigation into Tacoma ICE facility

caption: A detainee sits in the intake area at the Northwest Detention Center on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in Tacoma.
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A detainee sits in the intake area at the Northwest Detention Center on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in Tacoma.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Sen. Patty Murray has set her sights on the detention facility in Tacoma and has urged Homeland Security officials to investigate its conditions and policies.

"I have been very frustrated by recent reports on the overuse of isolation from the general population at ICE facilities — including at the Northwest ICE Processing Center in Tacoma," Sen. Murray said Wednesday, during a Senate Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee meeting Monday.

RELATED: WA plans to reduce solitary confinement, advocates say reforms are long overdue

Sen. Murray's comments were directed at Dept. of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who was brought into the hearing during budget discussions. She cited University of Washington research that concluded half of ICE's 10 longest administrative segregations (solitary confinement) over the past five years were at the Northwest Detention Center, a privately run facility in Tacoma.

"And I want to stress how concerning it is that ICE continues to use this practice so frequently for so many individuals and reportedly does so without consistent, accurate documentation of its use," Murray said.

Mayorkas said he is reviewing the issue with ICE, that "it’s a very case specific issue," and noted that sometimes the separations are requested by the detainees for safety reasons. He also said he would be "very pleased to consider" an investigation.

Sen. Murray's office highlighted the exchange in a press release shortly after the meeting.

This is not the first time Mayorkas has heard of this issue from the senator. Murray, and other lawmakers, sent a letter in early April, following the death of a detainee in Tacoma by suicide, who was separated and placed in solitary confinement. More recently, the Washington State Standard reported that in less than three months this year, there have been at least six suicide attempts at the Tacoma site.

RELATED: State regulators denied access to privately run ICE detention center in Tacoma

Previously, Murray's office has noted a report that found solitary confinement was used at ICE facilities more than 14,000 times between 2018 and 2023. The instances averaged 27 days.

The use of solitary confinement has been subject to scrutiny in recent years. Washington state's Dept. of Corrections is currently phasing out the practice and aims to have instances reduced by 90% by 2028.

“The research is clear on solitary confinement,” DOC Secretary Cheryl Strange in a June 2023 statement. “It causes long-lasting harm. While it can be an effective way to deter violence, spending prolonged periods of time in isolation has devastating effects on an individual’s mental and physical health long after they leave our facilities.”

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