Hatch questions ICE decision to pull immigration inmates from Weber County Jail

Published: Thursday, Oct. 20 2011 1:36 p.m. MDT

Sen. Orrin Hatch

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News archives

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OGDEN — Sen. Orrin Hatch wants the head of the Department of Homeland Security to rethink a decision to yank immigration inmates from the Weber County Jail based on an audit that found, among other things, that the jail did not provide them a barber shop.

Hatch questioned Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about guidelines for jails that house ICE detainees, specifically citing the Weber's failure to pass an audit that led to its contract being terminated.

"What are the options for local jails that are unable to comply with some of the more costly or onerous detention standards?" the senator asked.

Napolitano said she would have to look into the Weber County situation, and added, "We use a lot of jails around the country who have no problem complying with the standards."

"Please look at it because it seems ridiculous to me," Hatch replied.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit this summer found the jail out of compliance with mandates that detainees not undergo strip searches, make $10 copays for medical treatment or have their mail read. The jail also failed to provide ICE inmates their own barber shop.

The jail housed 30 to 60 ICE detainees among its 800 inmates on any given day. ICE paid the jail $55 per detainee. Losing the contract cost the county about $1.5 million a year.

Hatch raised the issue in Congress at the request of the Weber County Sheriff's Office.

"We've never heard of this barber shop thing until this year," said Sheriff Terry Thompson. "We just don't have space like that sitting around." Inmates currently get their haircut in their cells or hallways.

Furthermore, he said granting special privileges to ICE detainees would create an "unsettled and unsafe" environment for inmates and staff.

"That gets around in a hurry," Thompson said. "They may very well use that knowledge to leverage them for contraband or weapons and those kinds of things. It's very unsafe."

The sheriff said the jail has passed the audit every year until now. Weber County has housed ICE inmates since 2000.

Until recently, ICE agents conducted the jail inspections. Now ICE contracts with private auditors who the sheriff said "feel motivated to find problems. In some cases, we're meeting the standards and they want you to meet them in a different way."

Past attempts to clarify the requirements and an offer to work with ICE on building a separate pod for detainees haven't gone anywhere, Thompson said.

He said he won't comply with rules that put inmates and jailers at risk, regardless of the money the jail is missing out on.

"We would welcome them back if they would work with us on some of those standards," Thompson said.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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