Idaho News

Jerome hopes to contract with feds to hold immigration detainees; few Idaho jails do

Sgt. Troy Tolman does a security walk through the cell block at the Jerome County Jail.
Sgt. Troy Tolman does a security walk through the cell block at the Jerome County Jail. Twin Falls Times-News

People arrested by federal immigration agents could soon be staying at the Jerome County Jail.

Sheriff Doug McFall said he is close to finalizing a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to lease it 50 beds, with the county expecting to pull in about $75 per bed per day.

ICE used to have a major detention facility in the region at the Utah County Jail, south of Salt Lake City, but Utah County ended that contract last year because they had too many local inmates. McFall said he has been in talks with ICE since February and expects to have the contract done soon, calling it “pretty much a done deal.” County commissioners would still have to vote to approve it.

Statewide, there are only two facilities — the Elmore County Jail in Mountain Home and the Jefferson County Jail in Rigby — that hold ICE prisoners for more than a couple of days, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University in New York.

The Elmore County Jail housed 180 ICE inmates in the most recent reporting period, from October 2014 to September 2015, the university reported. The average stay was eight days before prisoners were moved to another facility. The Rigby jail housed 81 inmates over that same period, with an average stay of six days.

Jails in Ada and Canyon counties and the Mini-Cassia jail in Burley provide short-term housing — less than two days — for inmates arrested on other charges whom ICE takes custody of after those cases resolve or an inmate puts up a bond.

In Jerome, it costs about $107 per bed per day to house an inmate, McFall said. That includes everything from building depreciation to staffing to utilities, he said. However, the county pays many of those costs no matter how many inmates are in the jail, so the only added cost to the county is a few dollars per day per inmate for food and few dollars for medical care.

“Everything else is already there,” McFall said. “The utilities are there, the staff is already paid. The bed is there.”

Jerome County opened its new 136-bed jail almost a year ago, building it bigger than Jerome County would need for its own inmates in hopes of bringing in money by leasing beds to other agencies. McFall said the jail has averaged 90 to 100 inmates on a typical day over the past few weeks, of whom 50 to 60 percent are generally from Jerome County. The rest are from other counties or from the state system.

Jerome also houses Lincoln County’s inmates, and McFall said those inmates would still get priority over federal ones. The state prison system and other counties, however, would be a lower priority; if ICE needs all 50 beds, others would have to look elsewhere. The state pays $45 a day per inmate, less than ICE likely would.

“Right at the moment we don’t have 50 beds available,” McFall said. “As they start bringing their inmates in to house, we’ll have to start turning away state inmates and possibly inmates from other counties.”

One advantage for the county is that ICE would pay a fixed amount per bed even if there aren’t enough detainees to fill all 50 every day, County Commissioner Charlie Howell said.

Neighboring Twin Falls County, which has crowding issues at its jail — Twin Falls is in the early stages of studying whether to build a new one — does not regularly send inmates to Jerome. Twin Falls County Commissioner Terry Kramer said Jerome wanted a contract.

“We just haven’t done that yet,” he said. “We may in the future, but we haven’t yet.”

The two counties do, however, occasionally trade inmates if there is an inmate in one of their jails whom jail officials want separated from the other inmates.

“We just swap them, so no money changes hands,” McFall said. “But they keep their prisoner and we keep ours.”

The Statesman’s John Sowell contributed.