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Senators call for investigation into Pahrump ICE facility

Two U.S. senators representing Nevada are calling for the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to investigate conditions at the Nevada Southern Detention Center, a privately-owned facility in Pahrump that contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as “ICE.”

Motivating factor

This week, Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, both Democrats, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, (DHS) Office of the Inspector General, urging the agency to probe the detention center. The move came after Vice News reported that a captain at the facility was active on a neo-Nazi website and allegedly expressed interest in starting a white supremacist group, according to a joint press release by Cortez Masto and Rosen.

Created in 2013, Vice News is a news outlet that produces daily documentary essays through its website and the YouTube channel, according to its website, where it promotes itself on coverage of “under-reported stories.”

Safety concerns

The Nevada Southern Detention Center, owned by CoreCivic, is located 2190 East Mesquite Ave., in Pahrump.

The employee, identified by Vice News as Travis Frey, 31, has been placed on administrative leave, according to a CoreCivic public affairs official.

The incident, according to the joint release from Masto and Rosen, is the latest in a series of events that raise concerns about the safety of detainees and employees at the facility.

“It is imperative that any private company contracted with the federal government to operate a detention facility be held to the highest standards of care and management,” the senators wrote. “It is also critical that transparency and oversight not be hindered because the facility is operated by a private entity through a federal contract. The federal government has an obligation to ensure that individuals in its care, whether in a federally- or privately-operated facility, are subject to safe and healthy environments.”

Efforts to gain comment from the Office of the Inspector General, via the Department of Homeland Security, were unsuccessful by press time.

Possible red flags

Joseph Vincent Cuffari is the current Inspector General of the U.S Department of Homeland Security.

As stated in a letter to Cuffari, both senators expressed their respective concerns about the conditions at the Nevada Southern Detention Center.

“A number of reports have raised concerns regarding unsafe conditions at the facility for both detainees and employees, as well as potential violations of CoreCivic’s federal contracts,” the letter stated. “Recent concerning incidents, including an inmate’s murder and an employee’s on-site suicide, have shown that CoreCivic is not able to guarantee the safety of detainees within this facility and challenge the company’s ability to protect the health of its own employees.”

The letter continued: “Furthermore, concerns have been raised in recent days regarding the standards to which the company holds its employees after it was revealed that a captain at the Nevada Southern Detention Center was active on a neo-nazi website. In fact, as recently as June 2017, the employee publicly expressed his intent to establish a white nationalist chapter in his community. With overwhelming evidence that hate crimes are on the rise in the United States, it is critical for our government to take concrete steps to combat them.”

Response from CoreCivic

However, CoreCivic Director of Public Affairs Amanda Gilchrist responded via email to a request for comment on Monday, Jan 13.

“CoreCivic cares deeply about our employees, communities and the individuals in our care, and we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind,” the email stated. “The employee in question has been placed on administrative leave while we review the information that has come to light.”

Additionally, Gilchrist added that CoreCivic recognizes the inherent dignity of the human person and the need to treat every individual with respect.

“Our company has a detailed Human Rights Policy that clearly outlines our commitments regarding resident rights and treatment,” she said. “We also have strong commitments to promoting and supporting a diverse and inclusive workforce, which you can read more about in our most recent Environmental Social and Governance report.”

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

Pahrump Valley Times Interim Editor Jeffrey Meehan contributed to this story

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