A 39-year-old British man identified as Ben James Owen reportedly hung himself while in the custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). His passing has been the fifth death in ICE custody since October last year. Owen's death has drawn criticism towards the medical care of immigrant detainees, which is already under scrutiny following other deaths and serious incidents.
A statement released by ICE indicated that Owen was found dead in his cell in Baker County Detention Centre at Macclenny, Florida. Even though the case is under investigation, a preliminary report suggested that the cause of death was "self-inflicted strangulation."
Owen had entered the US on a temporary visa in July 2019. During his stay in the country, he was arrested for multiple felonies. The Port Orange Police Department had charged him with aggravated stalking, false imprisonment, domestic assault, and violating the conditions of his pre-trial release. He remained in police custody until January 15. After his release from prison, he was arrested by ICE and was to be deported back to the United Kingdom.
While he awaited his deportation proceedings, Owen remained in Baker County Detention Centre. On January 25, Owen was found hanging in his cell. After remaining unresponsive, he was declared dead.
The Foreign Office contacted Owen's wife after the incident. It has also been in touch with the US officials investigating his case, The Guardian reported.
Buzzfeed News pointed out that Owen's death had raised the number of detainee deaths under ICE custody to five since October. In the 2019 fiscal year, eight detainees had died while in custody. There are reportedly 41,000 immigrants being detained by ICE in January. The summer of 2019 saw the number of detainees reach 55,000.
A whistleblower alleged that the medical care provided for immigrant detainees was alarmingly flawed. Detainees received incorrect medication as well as delayed treatment. Detainees suffering from withdrawal symptoms were not given adequate treatment in time. The House Oversight and Reform Committee launched an investigation in December, into the sub-par medical attention detainees receive.