NEWS: Detention Facility Warden Retires
By Julio Morales
July 9, 2019
CALEXICO – After serving as warden for Imperial Regional Detention Facility since its opening in September 2014, John Rathman officially retired July 3.
Prior to serving as IRDF’s warden Rathman had spent 29 years working with the federal Bureau of Prisons at its Federal Correctional Institute in Phoenix, Ariz.
Rathman began his career with the Federal Correctional Institute in 1985 as a maintenance foreman and was later promoted to facility manager. Between 1998 and 2005, Rathman served as the institute’s assistant warden and then as warden between 2005 and 2014.
In April 2008, Mr. Rathman also became a member of the bureau’s Senior Executive Service. Following his retirement from the Bureau of Prisons in 2014, Rathman relocated to the Valley to serve as the newly opened IRDF’s warden.
“Under Mr. Rathman’s leadership, the team at Imperial developed the institution into a shining example and flagship for (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention and treating detainees with dignity and respect,” an IRDF press release stated.
The local detention facility is a private facility operated by Management Training Corp. through a subcontract with the city of Holtville.
As some immigration detention facilities and holding areas across the nation have increasingly been criticized by lawmakers and the public for distressing conditions, IRDF has largely avoided any such controversies.
Of the 10 immigration detention facilities that state Department of Justice officials visited between September 2017 and November 2018, IRDF was singled out for having the fewest detainee concerns.
‘Detainees raised fewer concerns regarding Imperial staff, food, and access to recreation than at any other facility our staff visited,” stated a February 2019 DOJ report, titled “Immigration Detention in California.”
Its treatment of its detainees is best summarized in a workplace philosophy that is publicized throughout the facility’s interior. That philosophy, BIONIC, stands for Believe It Or Not I Care.
Rathman’s tenure here was also highlighted by the establishment of a partnership with the Sure Helpline Crisis Center, which provides detainees with sexual assault-related counseling and resources as part of the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
“It just expands the quality of life for a detainee here,” Rathman said in a previous interview.
As the DOJ report cited as well, the facility offers its detainees access to a variety of classes provided by staff and volunteers, including typing, ESL (English as a second language), health and wellness, parenting, anger management, beauty basics, crochet, cake decorating classes, Zumba, and INEA (Instituto Nacional para la Educacion de los Adultos) classes, which are the Mexican equivalent to GED classes.
Even though the average stay of a detainee is about 95 days, MTC officials said, the company makes it a priority to provide such programming during the detainees’ relatively short stay.
“These are all things that we don’t have to do but we do because we know that it’s going to improve (the detainees) not only now but whether they go back home,” said Issa Arnita, MTC spokesperson during a tour of the facility in April.
MTC operates 26 different facilities in eight different states and can house more than 29,000 detainees at a time, officials previously said.
Rathman’s tenure was also marked by the facility’s regular invitations to the wider community to take part in open house tours and serve on leadership councils, as well as staff members’ engagement with the Valley community.
A native of Iowa, Rathman was raised in Minnesota, where he attended Clark County Community College and later Kennedy Western University, where he majored in business. In 1974, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served for four years. While with FCI in Phoenix, Rathman in 1997 was recognized by the U.S. Department of Energy with its 1997 National Federal energy & Water Management Award for outstanding leadership in the area of energy and water conservation.
Rathman and his wife, Cindy, will now be joining his family in Phoenix, where they are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first grandchild.
The staff of IRDF extended their thanks to Rathman for his excellent leadership and commitment to Imperial Regional Detention Facility.