Sheriff, jail superintendent shed light on ICE proposal

By Jim Hagerty 
Contributor

WINNEBAGO COUNTY JUSTICE CENTER – While Sheriff Gary Caruana knew his plan to house federal immigration detainees at the county jail would be met with some resistance, he said reports about the plan have not been accurate.

Caruana told The Times Monday that although 25 new corrections officers would be hired and help staff the program, they are not being brought on because of the planned partnership with U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The additional officers are a result of a grievance filed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

“It was filed because of a safety issue,” the sheriff said. “I need more corrections officers and the county board hasn’t given us the budget amendments. And I get it. They have their own issues of trying to work their way out of this budget crunch.”

But, the county is currently paying overtime to 150 officers to house 850 inmates and adding to payroll expenses.

“That’s not good business,” Caruana said. “I need to hire the correct amount of officers for safety, and so we are not paying overtime to run the jail. Now, there will be overtime. That happens. But not to run it every day. I need to get staff whether we do this or not. If anyone looks my overtime costs for the corrections center, they’d see that. No matter what you are doing, you can’t run an organization on overtime.”

In 2012, the jail, which has a capacity of 1,318, housed about 1,015 inmates per day and manned the facility with 189 officers. Federal immigration detainees would be placed in two empty 64-bed pods. The majority would be sent here from border states, where they are currently  being housed in tents and trailers while they straighten out their immigration status and move through the court system.

The Times reported last week that expenses to maintain the ICE partnership could reach as high as $3.3 million, leaving an approximate $400,000 in profit for the county. And while federal justice sources have also estimated the same $400,000, Caruana and Jail Superintendent Bob Redmond say those projections are not only incorrect, but that the program could come with an annual profit of almost $3 million.

“I come from the business world, and for $400,000, I wouldn’t even look at it,” Caruana said.

Redmond said on the high end, it costs about $17 per day to house an inmate. Housing 64 detainees in one pod would come with a $397,000 expense. The jail currently receives $80 per day per federal inmate. That means each full pod would bring in $1.87 million in revenue. Two full pods would result in an estimated annual profit of $2.94 million.

“That’s everything – staffing it 24 hours a day,” Redmond said. “And we’ve figured in everything like plungers, laundry soap, blankets, gloves, towels, sheets, mattresses, jumpsuits, tooth brushes, socks –  everything for each pod of 64 people.”

The federal government also reimburses the county for transportation and staffing costs, including overtime.

“For example, if we were asked to drive a federal inmate into Chicago, we would take two officers. We would be paid the mileage – $.55 a mile, plus $28 per hour (plus overtime) to do that.”

As of this report, there are 30 federal inmates in the county jail. The program generates around $700,000 per year for the general fund, Redmond said.

Then there is the human side of the project and what is being mired in misinformation about just who would be detained and the role of local officers in the process.

“There’s information out there that we are going on traffic stops and looking for immigration statuses,” Caruana said. “That’s false. We are not rounding up people on traffic stops and holding them in the jail.”

And it would not be the case if the jail were to house immigration detainees.

Like other local officers, sheriff’s deputies are not provided with immigration information in the field. To gain access to such information, local police agencies would be required to take part in the federal program that gives them authority to arrest undocumented immigrants under Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The sheriff’s current proposal would not include such delegation. It would be business as usual under a partnership with ICE, he said.

The only time someone is detained for any length of time because of immigration status is by order of a felony judicial warrant. Under the law, if those offenders are not taken into custody by ICE within 48 hours, they must be released. In the last three years, there have been 41 people held under those circumstances.

“We will assist U.S. Customs (and Border Protection),” Redmond said. “But we don’t do sweeps.”

Caruana said his department will assist any law enforcement agency that needs it. That includes federal departments and small forces like the Pecatonica Police Department with only two or three officers. They are all treated the same.

“I am not going to turn my back on law enforcement,” he said. “That is my constitutional responsibility. I am going to follow the law.”

A fear continues to grow across the country since President Donald Trump called for draconian immigration reform. Some are leery that a local ICE detention center will result in a reduction of reported crimes among Hispanics and other minorities. This includes undocumented victims of domestic violence.

“Whether it is a DUI, or domestic violence (call) we don’t care about documentation,” he said. “Again, we are not 287 (g) officers. We do not take people to jail because they are undocumented or they don’t have papers.”

Those who are charged with immigration-related offenses are not always taken into custody. They’re often served with notices to appear in court, and have the right to defend their cases. Even when charges are proven against someone for being in the United States illegally, relief from deportation, which can take several months or years, is sometimes offered.

Detainees sent to a Rockford ICE detention center would be undocumented felons or those charged with mid- to high-level crimes.

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