Shutdown Berks now!!

By The Shutdown Berks Campaign

The Berks County Residential Center (BCRC) is a prison for immigrant families, where children as young as two-weeksold have been incarcerated. By incarcerating and mistreating immigrant families, the BCRC has, for the last five years, committed human rights abuses and due process violations while disregarding Pennsylvania state and Federal laws. The callous and inhumane treatment of our fellow human beings must end now, with the state issuing an Emergency Removal Order and converting the prison into a drug treatment facility.

The mere act of incarcerating children and families is abusive. Not only is the incarceration of families immoral, but the American Pediatric Society, the Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the International Detention Coalition, have determined through extensive research that for a child, even a short period in detention has long-lasting detrimental mental and physical health effects. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that the detainment of children “puts them at greater risk for physical and mental health problems and unnecessarily exposes [them] to additional psychological trauma.”

In addition to the inherent trauma caused by detention, there has been case after case of abuse. Examples include:

  • In 2014, a young Honduran mother was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a staff member at the prison. The guard pleaded guilty to institutional sexual assault and served 16 months in prison, less time than the woman and her son were detained by Immigration.
  • In 2015, one mother reported that her daughter suffered from fevers and vomited; she said she watched helplessly as her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter threw up blood for three days.
  • A formerly detained mother described children with the flu and respiratory illnesses, and how the on-site medical professionals would take their temperatures but never give out medicine. When her own daughter had fever, she had to go to the hospital just to get Tylenol.
  • Another mother detained at Berks wrote to ICE in late 2015 that though her son’s skin disease had spread to his genitals and bled when scratched, the clinical team had not provided him with medication.
  • In May 2016, a three-year-old boy who had been suffering from fevers and loss of appetite for months was finally diagnosed with an intestinal parasite after his mother found a worm in his diaper.
  • In February 2018, the prison held at least two families in medical isolation without substantial evidence to do so. In one instance, a Haitian father and his 3-year-old son were quarantined for two weeks. In another case, a Haitian mother and her 3-year-old son were isolated for more than five days.
  • In April 2018, a 15-year-old girl was detained at Berks alongside her father for 32 days.

While there, Astrid said she was the only female in what was an all-male section of the center. The continued operation of the Berks County Residential Center not only violates state regulations but also operates in violation of Federal law. Moreover, the Pennsylvania

Department of Human Services (PA DHS) has publicly recognized that the center is in violation of its license. As we continue to fight to close all immigrant detention centers across the country, we call for the immediate closure of the Berks County Residential Center. Children do not belong in prison; people deserve care and safety. We must stand up for our fellow people and call out injustice wherever it may be.

Pennsylvania needs human services, not human rights violations. The prison serves no meaningful purpose in the Berks community. Berks County residents have shared with the state that they do not want a family prison in their county. In a survey done in June of 2018, Berks County residents overwhelmingly stated they preferred that the facility be used as a drug treatment center, since Berks County is in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Fortunately, Governor Wolf’s administration has prioritized the elimination of opioid abuse in Pennsylvania. In December of 2018, he accepted a $10 million grant from Michael Bloomberg to fight the opioid addiction epidemic and in January of 2019 the state received $55.9 million in new federal grants for the crisis.

By issuing an Expedited Removal Order (ERO) to shut down the facility as a prison for immigrant families, the Governor could use these funds to convert this prison into a drug treatment facility that provides accessible and quality care. Lt. Governor Fetterman campaigned to shut down Berks and Governor Wolf’s top priorities for the next four years are the opioid epidemic, criminal justice reform, and the welfare of children. Shutting down Berks would prove to his constituents that he is serious about his priorities.

Therefore, we call upon Governor Wolf as well as Teresa Miller, Secretary of the PA Department of Human Services, to take immediate action in issuing an Emergency Removal Order and take the steps necessary to convert the prison into a drug treatment facility.

If you have any questions about the Berks County Detention Center or this campaign you can contact

PHOTO: Izhar Khan from

NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 49 No. 5. June, 2019. All rights reserved.

Categories: News

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