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  • Through a formal complaint filed Monday, nurse and whistleblower Dawn Wooten alleged that detainees at the Irwin County Detention Facility in Georgia were subject to involuntary hysterectomies and widespread medical neglect. September 2, 2020.

    Through a formal complaint filed Monday, nurse and whistleblower Dawn Wooten alleged that detainees at the Irwin County Detention Facility in Georgia were subject to involuntary hysterectomies and widespread medical neglect. September 2, 2020. | Photo: Twitter/@ribunchreports

Published 15 September 2020
Opinion

In a joint complaint filed by Project South and the Government Accountability Project, nurse Dawn Wooten blew the whistle on the deplorable conditions, including involuntary hysterectomies, in a private Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Irwin, Georgia.

Wooten, a practicing nurse of 10 years who had worked at the Irwin County detention center in Georgia, operated by the private corporation LaSalle Corrections, for three years, filed the complaint Monday. 

Wooten claimed horrific conditions and treatment, including "jarring medical neglect," accusing the center of negligence, including poor safety precautions surrounding Covid-19 and generally hazardous and unsanitary conditions.

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According to an interview with the Intercept, Wooten says she was demoted and reprimanded when she spoke out against these practices, revealing that immigrants who also spoke out about these conditions were regularly pushed into solitary confinement.

Wooten's account, bolstered by interviews from Irwin's medical staff and current or recent detainees, most shockingly describes an alarmingly high rate of hysterectomies. She explains that basically every Spanish-speaking detainee who complained of a heavy menstrual cycle or pain was sent to an off-site surgeon who removed their uteruses despite not fully consenting to or understanding the procedure. 

"Everybody's uterus cannot be that bad," Wooten said, reminding of the tangible legacy of many U.S. states' forced sterilization programs for Black, indigenous and immigrant women under dubious and racist pretexts. 

Alleging health and safety violations, medical malpractice, and no informed consent, one detainee listed in the complaint said, "When I met all these women who had had surgeries, I thought this was like an experimental concentration camp. It was like they're experimenting with our bodies."

According to Project South, which launched a similar investigation into Irwin and other Georgia private immigrant detention facilities in 2017, "this place is not equipped for humans," further stating that "these are gross human rights violations, and the U.S. government should be held accountable."

Project South plans to file these documents to the U.S. Congress as well as to the United Nations, which defines involuntary sterilizations like these as an act of genocide and crimes under international law. Georgia state representative Bob Trammell has already called for a full investigation into Irwin and other ICE detention centers, including the suspension of state medical licenses for the providers mentioned in the report.

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