2021 Winner

The Thirty-Second Annual Joe A. Callaway Award for Civic Courage

Is Hereby Presented to

Dawn Wooten

Nurse and Courageous Whistleblower

In recognition of her courage in publicly speaking out about serious medical failures at the Irwin County, Georgia Detention Center (ICDC), a Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility run again by the LaSalle corporation.

Wooten alleged general medical failures and failures specific to protecting against the spread of COVID-19, including failing to isolate detained immigrants who had confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19, refusing to test symptomatic detained immigrants for COVID-19, failing to provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical and correctional staff who have close and prolonged contact with detained immigrants with confirmed cases of COVID-19, shredding immigrant detainees’ written requests for medical care, and the overall systematic undercounting and under reporting of COVID-19 cases at ICDC made possible by fabrication of medical records.

Although the majority of Wooten’s disclosures focused on endangerment of immigrants
– and workers and the public – from the spread of COVID-19, another allegation exploded when covered by the press – that women were undergoing hysterectomies and other procedures without informed consent.

Wooten’s disclosures generated much press coverage, Congressional calls for investigations and oversight, multiple Congressional briefings and agency investigations. It also generated retaliation against her. Wooten faced “retaliatory reprimand and demotion” for speaking out.

Earlier this year, in part as a result of Wooten’s disclosures, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Mayorkas ordered an end to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contract with ICDC, stating “We will not tolerate the mistreatment of individuals in civil immigration detention or substandard conditions of detention.”

The whistleblower community and the public are deeply indebted to Dawn Wooten for her commitment to the public health and for speaking out in the face of retaliation.