DHS Struggles to Maintain Mental Health Providers in Immigration Detention Facilities
The Office of Inspector General, Department of Homeland Security, recently issued a memorandum concerning the availability of mental health providers and care for immigrant detainees. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Health Service Corps (IHSC) is responsible for providing any medical treatment and care for detainees. IHSC offers medical and mental health care at 21 of the 230 ICE detention facilities, and additionally contracts with local providers and facilities to provide mental health treatment as needed. This recent report indicated that while ICE has implemented many recommendations regarding inmates’ mental health care, there still are deficiencies in the mental health treatment available to detainees.
For instance, ICE officials have difficulties attracting and retaining psychiatrists at detention facilities located in remote and rural areas. ICE is unable to offer competitive pay rates for psychiatrists, and a lengthy security clearance process often causes applicants to accept other opportunities. Although ICE has used Title 38 hiring authorities to recruit and pay for health care personnel, which helps federal agencies better compete with nonfederal employers with more flexible recruitment, retention, and pay, staffing challenges continue.
ICE has taken steps to increase the availability of resources for detainees with mental health conditions, ensure that detention facilities do not misuse segregation in mental health cases, and place detainees with mental health issues in facilities that have the most resources and treatment options available. These steps are improvements that OIG previously had recommended.
With these staffing issues in mind, OIG continues to provide oversight in order to ensure that ICE adequately meets the mental health needs of immigrant detainees. For example, OIG is conducting periodic inspections of the facilities providing housing to ICE detainees to make sure that the conditions are adequate not only for immigrants in general, but for those with mental health conditions.
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