OGDEN -- The head of the Utah Sheriffs' Association is blasting a federal audit that resulted in the June removal of 32 Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees from Weber County Jail.
The association's executive director, Gary W. DeLand, of Santa Clara, said Monday that ICE's decision to pull the prisoners from the jail was arbitrary and improper.
"The decision by ICE was wholly unjustified, based on (so-called) national standards which are not national standards, done without an opportunity for due process or an opportunity to challenge the action, and caused a loss of revenue which had been built into the sheriff's budget," DeLand said in an email to the Standard Examiner.
"To call them national standards implies they are recognized and accepted as a national benchmark for running jails. Hardly. Even the U.S. Marshals Services' contracts are different from those of ICE."
DeLand also said in a phone interview that the ICE requirements are at odds with U.S. Supreme Court rulings regarding the treatment of prisoners.
"You are looking at incredible bureaucratic (B.S.)," he said. "They (ICE) can't defend the standards on a legal or operational basis."
ICE requirements, such as access to law libraries and limited searches of detainees, gives illegal alien prisoners more rights than their U.S. counterparts, and that can cause security problems in jails, DeLand said.
"American prisoners look at ICE prisoners with animosity and contempt," he added.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, said Monday a distinction needs to be made between ICE detainees and typical prisoners held in Weber County Jail.
"Unlike inmates who are being held by local jails or by the U.S. Marshals Service, the individuals in ICE custody are being detained pursuant to an administrative removal action as opposed to a criminal proceeding," she said in an email.
"As such, ours is a civil detention system, and the agency's detention standards are consistent with that mission."
ICE is currently implementing comprehensive reforms to its detention system, Kice said. As part of that process, the agency is moving away from its present decentralized, jail-oriented approach to a system designed for and based on ICE's civil detention standards.
In the next three to five years, ICE will design facilities located and operated for immigration detention purposes. These reforms will bring improved medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence and ICE oversight, Kice said.
ICE informed Weber County Jail officials in September that the jail didn't pass annual audits and that requirements outlined in the reports are non-negotiable.
For example, ICE mandates that its detainees don't undergo strip searches, don't have to pay the $10 co-pays for medical treatment, can't have their mail read like other inmates' and deserve their own barbershop.
Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said the jail can't comply with such directives for the small group of 30 to 60 ICE inmates held at any given time at the facility that routinely houses almost 900 prisoners, because it would amount to disparate treatment.
In addition, prohibiting strip searches of ICE inmates for sharp objects after they leave the jail's kitchen and barbershop poses safety problems for corrections officers and other inmates, he said.
Removal of ICE detainees could result in a loss of $800,000 to $1.5 million annually to the sheriff's office budget, Thompson said.
The shortfall will be covered through belt-tightening and reduction in staff through attrition, but no layoffs, he has said.
In addition, the jail will seek to take additional inmates from other contracted agencies that lease beds.
ICE paid Weber County Jail $55 a day per detainee. Weber was one of three county jails in the state housing ICE detainees long term, along with Utah and Washington counties.
The jail still houses about 200 federal prisoners booked by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Thompson said the marshals' audits of the jail have been largely favorable over the years, as have the ICE inspections until this year.