MA Sheriff Asked to Stop Housing Immigrant Detainees at Boston Jail
Boston Globe via YellowBrix
August 21, 2010
SSUFFOLK COUNTY, MA – uffolk County Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral said yesterday that US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has asked her to reconsider her decision to stop housing immigrant detainees at a Boston jail. She said she plans to huddle with federal authorities in a bid to resolve her complaints of a serious breakdown in communications with the agency.
“Sometimes you have to be tough just to get somebody’s attention,’’ said Cabral, whose general counsel sent a scathing later to ICE last week, warning officials to remove the immigrants being held at the House of Correction at South Bay in Roxbury by Oct. 12 because the federal agency routinely failed to share information with the sheriff’s office that involved its handling of detainees.
“They want us to sit down and have a conversation, and I never say no to that,’’ Cabral said in a telephone interview. “Perhaps we can resolve outstanding issues. If that can’t happen, we’ll go forward as planned.’’
Cabral complained that ICE failed to provide copies of complaints from detainees, findings by ICE following investigations of those complaints, and audit reports on jail practices. She also said that ICE did not give her office a report that faulted its handling of a detainee who died until after the report was released to the news media.
In the Aug. 13 letter notifying ICE of plans to terminate a seven-year-old contract to house the detainees, James M. Davin, general counsel for Cabral’s office, said they had encountered “a staggering lack of communication and respect from representatives of your agency.’’
He also complained that ICE had failed to negotiate with Cabral’s office since it made a request in January 2009 for an increase in the $90 a day it pays the sheriff’s office to house each detainee. That is the rate it has paid since the jail began housing detainees in 2003.
A spokesman for ICE declined to comment yesterday on Cabral’s complaints or efforts to mend the rift and keep the immigrants at the Boston jail. He released a statement saying ICE was reviewing the letter and “will offer a direct response’’ to Cabral’s office.
Cabral and two other Massachusetts sheriffs said yesterday that the millions of dollars they get from the federal government to house immigrants facing deportation or other immigration proceedings are a boon to their budgets. Cabral said her office was paid about $8 million last year to house up to 260 immigrant detainees at a time, but it also cost just over $6 million to care for them. She acknowledged that the federal dollars helped her budget, because it meant the state had to kick in that much less to her office.
The contract also allowed Cabral to generate revenue from a building that had been empty before the federal detainees were moved in. Its open-floor plan made it unsuitable to house higher-security prison inmates. But Cabral said her contract with ICE “was never about how many people I can get here and what is the reimbursement rate.’’
She said she does not want to characterize her problems with ICE as “some sort of interagency feud,’’ but said the agency’s failure to share information with her staff has affected her ability to properly run the jail.
“It is not OK to have a partner in the detention of any group of people where there is limited communication and a lack of information sharing,’’ Cabral said.
The vast majority of immigrant detainees in New England are held in four Massachusetts jails, in Plymouth, Bristol, Suffolk, and Franklin counties.
Plymouth Sheriff Joseph D. McDonald Jr. and Bristol Sheriff Thomas Hodgson said yesterday that they have a good relationship with ICE and have no problems receiving information from the agency.
“They have shared audits and inmate complaints,’’ said McDonald, who received $13 million from the federal government last year and houses 292 immigrant detainees for ICE and another 124 pretrial detainees for the US Marshals Service. “If shortcomings or issues were found, they notified us in a timely manner.’’
But McDonald said he understood why Cabral would be angry if she failed to promptly receive an ICE report that faulted her office for waiting too long to provide medical care to an immigrant detainee who died in October and then learned of it from news accounts.
Hodgson, who was paid $7.9 million last year to house an average of 220 immigrant detainees each day, said: “This is an important initiative because it saves the taxpayers federal tax dollars. They’d have to ship some of them to Texas and other places, and that’s costly.’’
Hodgson said he renegotiated a contract with ICE, which now pays him $98 a day per detainee. McDonald said he has been reimbursed $93.82 a day for each detainee since October 2008.