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Homeland Security Inspector General’s Report Finds Additional Controls Needed to Ensure Prisoners’ Access to Phones at ICE Facilities

A report issued by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as part of an audit to determine whether Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials are properly administering prison telephone systems found that changes must be made to bring ICE into full compliance with applicable standards and contract provisions.

According to the report, although ICE has made “considerable progress in assuring detainees’ access to contractor telephone and pro-bono services at ... sites where the majority of illegal aliens are detained ... additional controls are needed to ensure contractor compliance....”

ICE currently operates 15 Service Processing Centers and Contractor Operated Facilities that house 10,000 immigrant detainees. An additional 20,000 ICE prisoners are held in 215 Intergovernmental Service Agreement detention facilities. ICE also operates “hold rooms” in the agency’s field and sub-offices which “presently do not offer telephone services.” [See, e.g., PLN, Sept. 2010, p.22].

Past complaints related to ICE telephone practices have included lack of phones in ICE “hold rooms” and many ICE contract facilities, “pro-bono” phone lines that are non-operable, and excessive charges for calls to detainees’ families and legal assistance organizations. Although the Inspector General’s report does not mention these problems directly, it clearly indicates that “management controls ... could be improved.”

ICE’s existing telephone services contract requires the contractor providing phone services to produce financial data showing call pricing information before and as a call is being processed, plus call history, accounting and management reports, among other data. The Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative (COTR) office conceded that it did not review this information.

Evidence obtained by the Inspector General revealed that “detainees had, in the past, been inappropriately charged an additional fee to obtain access to a local telephone service,” and that “the COTRs assigned to monitor the telephone services contract were neither monitoring nor evaluating contractor adherence to the contract’s financial reporting requirement for accuracy and fairness.”

The report concluded by making two recommendations. First, to more completely review the financial aspects of ICE’s detainee telephone services to prevent overcharging, and second, to ensure that the individuals responsible for oversight have the capability of understanding the financial data they are required to review.

A 2007 audit by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) also found pervasive problems at ICE facilities related to telephone access by immigrant detainees. Apparently, not much has been done to resolve such problems over the past several years. [See: PLN, Oct. 2007, p.28].

Source: “Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Management Controls over Detainee Telephone Services,” Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General (January 2010)

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