Weber County has enjoyed an outstanding and mutually beneficial relationship with local Utah ICE Officials for over a decade. Recently, this partnership has been disconcerted due to direction given by current administration in Washington D.C.
Housing ICE Detainees
The Weber County Sheriff's Office (WCSO) has housed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees since 2000. ICE elected to house detainees in our facility under an Intergovernmental Service Agreement that was already in place with the US Marshals Service (USMS) to house inmates. This agreement contains the scope of the inmate housing contract, including a per diem rate of reimbursement for the costs of incarceration to Weber County for each detainee. ICE did not request any of the terms of the contract to be modified or altered for their detainees.
ICE Inspection Program: National Detention Standards (NDS)
From 2000 to 2007, both the US Marshals Service and Immigrations conducted annual inspections of the Weber County Sheriff's Office jail operations by sending local agents to complete a security checklist of required standards. These annual inspections resulted in acceptable ratings.
The Weber County Sheriff's Office has always been very open and transparent. We have been available for inspections at all levels and are routinely inspected by multiple agencies with a vested interest in the professional incarceration of prisoners. We welcome this scrutiny and consider it beneficial to providing the highest degree of efficiency, effectiveness, safety, and security for both staff and inmates, reflecting best practices and defensible processes.
In 2008, ICE began contracting with private vendors for inspection services. Inspectors compared WCSO operations to the National Detention Standards. We continued to receive acceptable ratings. It was noted by WCSO, however, that there appeared to be inconsistent findings during each inspection. Although each overall rating was acceptable, individual standards that were found to be compliant during one inspection were found to be non-compliant in a subsequent inspection. Individual inspectors' interpretations of some of the standards were different with each inspection. We found it extremely difficult to resolve questions regarding the interpretation of some of the standards. Most of the inspectors had knowledge and experience of Federal prisons, but very little experience with local jail operations. The scope and purpose of jails and prisons are very different, as is that of Federal operations from local government.
In 2011, we were inspected by the ICE contract vendor and additionally by another group of ICE officials. Though WCSO operations have not significantly changed over the past few years, we suddenly received a diminished rating of "at risk." Some of the standards were found to be deficient that had not been identified as deficient in the past. During this inspection process, ICE Headquarters in Washington DC directed that all ICE detainees be removed. To date, there has been no satisfactory explanation provided to us for the removal of all ICE detainees since no rating had been assessed at that time.
ICE Detention Privileges/Mandates
1. During an initial private contractor inspection, the WCSO was compelled to provide an "ICE only" law library for the exclusive use of ICE detainees. Each ICE detainee was mandated five hours per week in the library whether he or she requested the use or not. An office that housed several staff members had to be utilized as the ICE law library, which presented a challenge to some of our operations.
2. ICE standards direct that barbering operations be located in a separate room with hot and cold running water that is not used for any other purpose. Because WCSO runs a very efficient facility, we do not have an extra room for this operation. Currently, haircuts for inmates are done in a suitable area that does not require a separate room. In addition, all inmates are currently charged for haircuts. ICE is directing that we no longer charge their Detainees for this service.
3. ICE is now requiring that certain detainees be housed in an area separate from other inmates for particular management purposes. Our facility currently runs very efficiently with our bed space used to its maximum potential. We do not have a physical location to house ICE detainees in different locations in the manner ICE is requiring.
4. Unless an inmate's mail is identified as legal mail to an attorney, the standard practice for handling mail in a detention facility is to inspect its contents for contraband. ICE claims all mail from ICE detainees is not subject to inspection. The standard requires that mail be opened in the presence of the detainee.
5. All WCSO inmates are able to view rules and procedures that apply to their incarceration. These are posted in the housing units and are available on an electronic kiosk in each area. ICE mandates that each detainee be given a personal copy of these rules. Requiring WCSO to constantly print and distribute these handbooks is inefficient and costly to the facility.
6. ICE does not allow their detainees to be charged the minimal, customary fees for medical visits that are charged to all other inmates housed in our facility, including County, State, and US Marshals inmates.
Treating one type of our inmate population with preferential and disparate standards over the others poses a risk to the safety and security of the inmates and of our staff. ICE did not make any requests for any of the above processes as a condition of housing their inmates in the initial agreement. Recently, however, ICE has expressed a desire to enter into a separate agreement with the WCSO that would afford additional services to their detainees, several of which would be very difficult to provide.
Other ICE Partnerships/287(g) Program
In 2008, the Sheriff's Office committed significant staffing resources to attend training in South Carolina. Fourteen WCSO staff members attended this month-long training to become ICE Agents in their 287(g) Program. By training our staff to perform the initial screening required to evaluate residency status, we were able to hold potential illegal aliens that were brought into our facility for committing crimes so they would not be released back into our community. By participating in this program, our staff could function as ICE Agents to complete work normally done by ICE in a more timely and efficient manner, allowing ICE staff to pursue other missions. By way of comparison, Weber County and Washington County are the only 287(g) compliant agencies in the State of Utah.
The 287(g) Program serves to make the community safer by more quickly identifying those who may be in our Country illegally that are here committing serious crimes, so they may be detained for deportation proceedings. The program has worked well for the past three years and Weber County has enjoyed this partnership and the protection it has provided for Weber County residents.
At the request of ICE, WCSO has provided office and networking space for ICE for video court proceedings of ICE inmates. Additionally, WCSO transportation deputies have been transporting ICE inmates to and from Salt Lake City for court proceedings with Federal judges.
Nationally, the current climate is that of reducing the number of detainees held in ICE custody. Correctional facilities across the Country are no longer housing ICE detainees due to ICE' less secure demands/standards on jail operations. The housing of Immigrations Detainees in County jails provides an important service to our community. It is in the best interest of the Illegal Aliens to allow easier access to their families and to legal assistance. The Weber County Sheriff's Office has proven to be the premier housing solution for ICE Detainees in Utah. We have spared no effort in investing in our community protection by training a number of our staff to assist ICE with their duties. The US Marshals Service has often thanked us for our professional and effective operations. We encourage ICE Headquarters in Washington DC to consider the Weber County Sheriff's Office the same.
Thompson is the Weber County sheriff.