ICE Detainees Who Earn $1 a Day Can't Afford $11 Toothpaste on Sale at Private Detention Center: Report

Attorneys and campaigners have accused private detainee lockups of charging high prices for goods such as soap to lure inmates into taking jobs that pay as little as $1 a day.

Lean provisions encourage Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) inmates to join this low-paid workforce, boosting the facilities' profits, activists and immigrants told Reuters news agency.

Related: Donald Trump's former ICE director tells Fox News Nancy Pelosi is "disgusting"

Honduran asylum seeker Duglas Cruz, 25, said he took a $1-a-day job at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California to supplement meager meals provided by the center. But his salary wasn't high enough to buy commissary items like tuna (a can costs $3.25) or deodorant ($4.35 for a small stick).

The facility also reportedly charges fees of around 10 percent on payments to inmates' commissary accounts. Calls to Mexico can cost ICE detainees $1 a minute, Reuters stated.

A commissary price sheet from another private detention facility—the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, as seen by Reuters—listed a tube of Sensodyne toothpaste for $11.02 and Dove soap for $2.44.

ICE spokesperson Vincent Picard told Newsweek that Adelanto offers basic items such as toothpaste and soap bars for free on request. ICE requires meals to be certified by a dietician, he added, explaining that Adelanto menus average 2,300 calories per day.

Government dietary guidelines estimate adult men need between 2,000 and 3,000 calories per day.

A commissary list shared by Picard showed Adelanto charges $9 for Sensodyne toothpaste and $3.50 for Dove soap. Other options, like Colgate and Cool Wave toothpastes, are offered at lower prices ($2 and $1.50, respectively).

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is representing detainees such as Wilhen Hill Barrientos, 67, who filed a class-action lawsuit in 2018 against CoreCivic Inc, which owns the Stewart facility. He said in the suit that inmates "either work for a few cents an hour or live without basic things like soap, shampoo, deodorant and food."

SPLC's Meredith Stewart, who is a lead attorney on the suit, said, "These private prison companies are profiting off of what is essentially a company-store scenario."

The Department of Homeland Security recently published a report that found health and safety problems at the Stewart center. Staff, for example, were holding inmates in solitary confinement for "extended periods of time without documented, periodic reviews that are required to justify continued segregation."

The report noted one detainee was locked down in a cell simply for sharing coffee with another inmate. "Overall, we identified problems that undermine the protection of detainees' rights, their humane treatment, and the provision of a safe and healthy environment," the December 2018 report concluded.

In May of last year, an inmate diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disease killed himself at the center.

Geo Group Inc, the company that owns the Adelanto center, told Reuters that external contractors run its commissary, offering prices "in line with comparable local markets." Much of Geo Group's "minimal" commission goes toward recreational equipment for inmates, the company added. External vendors also provide inmate communications services, Geo Group said.

Back in December, a Daily Beast report found ICE paid private detention facilities more than $800 million last year.

"Ensuring there are sufficient beds available to meet the current demand for detention space is crucial to the success of ICE's overall mission," ICE spokesperson Danielle Benett told the publication at the time. "Accordingly, the agency is continually reviewing its detention requirements and exploring options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency's custody."

This article has been updated with comment from ICE Public Affairs acting assistant director Vincent Picard. It was previously corrected to clarify commissary costs at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California.

ICE, Detention Center, Immigration, Adelanto, Stewart
An immigrant detainee makes a call from his “segregation cell” at the Adelanto Detention Facility, in Adelanto, California, on November 15, 2013. Attorneys and campaigners have accused private detainee lockups of charging high prices for goods such as soap to lure inmates into taking jobs that pay as little as $1 a day. John Moore/Getty Images