The Glades County Detention Center, a prison facility about two hours northwest of downtown Miami, nearly had to close in 2014. It wasn’t getting enough inmates to justify its existence. But the county jail found a new cash cow in Donald Trump, whose deportation crackdown has kept Glades County jail guards employed and provided a nice return on investment to the Wall Street firm backing the jail.
But while Glades County Sheriff David Hardin has praised Trump for sending more Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees to his facility, the detainees themselves have been miserable. Refugees claim they’ve been beaten, denied vital medical treatment, and wantonly pepper-sprayed into fits of choking and gagging. And now, Muslim detainees are suing Hardin and the detention center in federal court, claiming the center is intentionally preventing them from practicing their faith.
“The Glades defendants have, among other things, intentionally interfered with, delayed, and canceled prayer services; deprived plaintiffs of religiously compliant meals and instead provided them with food that is inedible, nutritionally deficient, or both; and failed to provide Plaintiffs with essential and commonplace religious articles that are necessary for their religious practice, including Qur’ans, prayer rugs, and head-coverings,” the suit reads.
This is not the first time these detainees have voiced their concerns publicly. In December 2017, ICE shackled 92 Somali detainees into an airplane, took off from Louisiana, stopped in Senegal, and then turned around and flew back to Miami. The deportees never made it to Somalia. But they remained shackled inside the plane for 48 hours. Some even said they were beaten on the plane or forced to relieve themselves in their seats. Doctors reported that some of the men returned to Miami with serious injuries. (ICE previously confirmed the men were shackled but denied they were assaulted by guards or not given medical care.)
After the flight, the 92 detainees were split up. Some went to the Krome Processing Center in Miami-Dade County. ICE sent others to Glades, where they say they have been routinely abused by Hardin’s staff. (ICE previously told New Times it would review the Glades allegations.) Throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Glades County refused to provide basic services that would let the men practice their religion, the detainees say. Although Christian detainees have been given Bibles and time to pray, Muslims heard only about the difficulties of accommodating them. One guard allegedly responded, “This is Glades County!”
After lawyers for the men launched public complaints at the detention center, the lawsuit claims conditions did not improve. In fact, the suit says the detainees issued more than 20 different written letters to both the detention center and ICE to no avail.
“Despite these repeated requests, the long list of deprivations has continued,” the suit states.
The legal complaint alleges that Glades County and ICE have grossly ignored the men’s concerns. It says ICE and the GCDC refuse to provide Qur’ans written in Arabic, despite the fact many of the men struggle to read English. Hardin’s jail has not provided traditional Muslim kufi caps, rugs, or prayer beads. Muslims are instructed to pray toward the Holy City of Mecca — the men say GCDC guards refuse to tell them which direction that is, and have needlessly interrupted or limited daily prayer time. Some men arrived with their own kufis, but guards allegedly ban detainees from wearing them. Since the jail won’t provide prayer rugs, the men say they’ve tried to use bedsheets instead. Sometimes, the guards also take the bedsheets.
“Consequently, Plaintiffs frequently have to pray on the dirty, concrete floor or use the same sheets for prayer or bedding,” the complaint states.
The suit specifically alleges the jail’s designated chaplain has discriminated against the refugees — the detention center set up a Christian ministry but did not do the same for Muslim detainees. When confronted by one detainee, the chaplain allegedly replied, “Boy, you’re in Glades County.”
Food has also been an issue. The men have alleged for months that the GCDC refuses to provide “halal” meals. The suit states that, in some cases, the men were fed the same, bland pasta meal six times per week. During Ramadan, they fasted throughout the day, and, when they broke fast after sundown, GCDC guards allegedly fed them lunches that had been sitting out for hours.
“The existence of these unlawful obstacles to religious practice is publicly documented and well known to Defendants because of repeated detainee grievances, letters from advocacy groups, and media reports highlighting free exercise deprivations,” the suit states. “Yet, in the face of this all, the Glades Defendants have failed to make any meaningful changes, and the Federal Defendants have not required them to change their practices.”