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California Counties Vie to House ICE Prisoners

Santa Clara County, California – where local law enforcement authorities have policies against cooperating fully with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in terms of enforcing immigration laws – has turned a blind eye to its pro-immigration values and contracted with federal officials to incarcerate immigrant detainees.

The decision to go into the rent-a-bed jail business, made six years ago, enabled the county to avoid severe budget cuts. Today, Santa Clara County houses not only federal immigrant detainees but also state prisoners, plus a small number of prisoners from other local jurisdictions. These revenue-generating prisoners account for nearly 10 percent of the county’s jail population, which now stands at 4,500 – making it the 15th largest county jail system in the nation.

While saying that he would “prefer not to have federal and state prisoners and inmates from other counties” in his jail, Edward Flores, chief of Santa Clara County’s Department of Correction, admitted that given the economic reality of tight budgets, the county had little choice but to continue its current practice.

Indeed, a 2009 management audit found that Santa Clara County reaped a net annual benefit of $11.1 million – nearly 6 percent of its corrections budget – by housing federal and state prisoners.

That revenue stream is now in jeopardy, however, as ICE, looking for cheaper beds for its detainees, found a better deal in Yuba County. While Santa Clara County charges $103 per diem to house ICE prisoners, Yuba County charges just $71 – 30 percent less. Given what ICE spokesperson Virginia Kice described as the agency’s “obligation to use taxpayers’ money in the most efficient way possible,” it isn’t surprising that Santa Clara County, which housed 150 ICE prisoners in 2008, held fewer than 60 by the end of 2009.

The reduction in ICE prisoners means the county will fall short of the revenue it had budgeted by at least $1 million. That, in turn, could lead to major budget cuts. PLN previously reported that county jails in Missouri, Minnesota and Florida were in financial difficulty after ICE cut back on housing immigrant detainees at those facilities, too. [See: PLN, April 2010, p.18].

Source: The Mercury News

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