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In-Depth Interview: Journalist Otis R. Taylor, Jr. Reports on Inhumane Conditions for Immigrants in County Jail

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Otis R. Taylor, Jr is a news columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and he details his coverage of inhumane treatment of immigrants held for ICE at the West Contra Costa County jail in Richmond, California.

You can read Taylor’s columns here.  Since November, 2017 he has published 7 reports about conditions at the jail, which holds about 200 immigrants under a contract with ICE.

He first reported that female prisoners were being locked down for as long as 23 hours a day in cells without toilets, forced to use red plastic bags to defecate.  One woman, a homeowner and mother of 3 US citizens, asked to be deported because she couldn’t tolerate the spartan treatment.

Following Taylor’s reports, Sheriff David Livingston denied the claims, and conducted an investigation that did not include the women who complained, as most of them had been deported.  Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Contra Costa) was permitted to tour the jail, but not to talk to prisoners.  After Livingston ordered an end to weekly visits by an immigrant advocacy group CIVIC (now called Freedom for Immigrants), DeSaulnier publicly called for an end to the county’s contract with ICE.

In March, a deputy on guard duty admitted he had sex with two female prisoners late at night, which the department called “consensual” and the women called “rape”.  This incident raises many questions about security and accountability at the jail.

Taylor also shares the case of Carlos Cruz, an undocumented Sacramento man who was compliant with monthly check-ins with ICE.  After Cruz refused to snitch on other immigrants, he reported being brutally handled by ICE agents as they tried to force him to fingerprint a document for self-deportation.  Cruz was treated at a hospital, and the medications ordered by the doctor were withheld for 3 weeks as his wife and children went underground after threats that they would be deported.

In our conversation, we refer to a report from The Intercept showing that only about 12% of prisoner complaints are investigated.