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New wall has opened door to more illegal aliens at Strafford County jail

Union Leader Correspondent

April 02. 2017 8:14PM
As of last week, 109 of the approximately 400 inmates at the Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover were illegal aliens detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (JASON SCHREIBER/CORRESPONDENT)

DOVER — Building a wall inside the Strafford County House of Corrections is paying off for the county jail — the only one in New Hampshire that houses illegal aliens for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The $450,000 wall built last year split up a housing unit to better separate undocumented ICE detainees from those who were undocumented and also accused of other crimes.

The wall divided a unit with 24 rooms and 48 beds into two units, one with 12 rooms and the other with 11. The jail lost one room because additional bathroom facilities were installed.

The wall has allowed the jail to double the number of illegal aliens it can house through its agreement with ICE, which county officials say has generated more revenue to pay for other programs aimed at preventing overcrowding and keeping people from returning to jail.

ICE pays the county $83 a day per detainee, with additional fees for transportation services.

According to county figures, ICE paid $2,390,483 in room and board for detainees in 2016. That’s up significantly from the $931,841 paid in 2015 and $793,978 in 2014.

As of last week, 109 of the approximately 400 inmates at the jail were ICE detainees — mostly from New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont.

The jail is one of only a handful of correctional facilities in New England that houses illegal aliens as part of a program that began nine years ago.

Strafford County Manager Ray Bower said it’s hard to calculate the exact cost to the county for housing the ICE detainees. It costs about $20 a day for food and hygiene essentials; staffing levels for the jail remain the same whether detainees are there or not, he said.

“It paid off in two or three months,” Bower said of the county delegation’s decision to build the wall.

Before the wall, Bower said, the jail could accommodate only illegal aliens who were both undocumented and accused of other crimes. Now the jail can take in those who are solely undocumented.

“It’s really a business plan ... but to say that we did this for ICE is short-sighted. It’s correct that we did it now for ICE, but this space is usable for us whether we detain ICE inmates or not. It’s always in any house of corrections’ best interest to have as many separate spaces as you can,” Bower said, adding that it gives the jail more options for separating certain inmates, such as those affiliated with gangs.

Capt. Chris Brackett, acting superintendent, said to optimize bed space, the jail has the flexibility to move inmates from one housing unit to another, depending on the number of ICE detainees. 

In addition to ICE detainees, the jail houses inmates for the U.S. Marshals Service, females for the state prison and Rockingham County House of Corrections, and state prison inmates on probation or parole who violated terms of their sentences and must serve a short period of incarceration.

Out of the 400 inmates at the jail last week, 288 were non-county inmates, according to Brackett.

JASON SCHREIBER/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT Inmates at the Strafford County House of Corrections play cards before lunch during a media tour of the facility last week.

ICE inspections

While they’re not housed at the jail, ICE staff members visit several times a week and are available to answer detainees’ questions. The jail also undergoes routine ICE inspections.

Brackett said ICE inspections are rigorous because the agency is strict about making sure detainees are properly cared for.

Bower said the detainees always have free access to call their consulates and lawyers.

“We want them to have that communication. We want them to exercise their legal rights. We want them to not be detained if they shouldn’t be detained. We want to make sure all of that information is available and they have access to that. That’s our job, not just for detainees but for everyone,” he said.

The jail also contracts with a translation service; Spanish is the predominant language spoken by detainees.

“We have the availability of 130 different languages through a company that we deal with, which is particularly pertinent when it comes to medical. We want to make sure that we learn everybody’s medical information,” Bower said.

The jail has worked to meet ICE demands over the years, including adding a barber shop. Bower said it’s unlikely the jail would have a barber shop for its regular inmate population.

“There’s an expense on our part and a willingness on our part to comply with all of their rules, which might be different than what we would do with our general population. I think it’s made us a better jail by complying with all of those rules,” Bower said.

An ICE detainee sits on her bed at the Strafford County House of Corrections in Dover. (JASON SCHREIBER/CORRESPONDENT)

Same daily schedule

Officials said the ICE detainees are treated like other inmates and they follow the same daily schedule. They’re locked in about midnight and wake up at 5:30 a.m. when they’re allowed access to a razor for shaving. Breakfast is served around 6 a.m. as inmates are locked down. A shift change occurs at 6:45 a.m., a head count is performed, and the inmates come out of lockdown and are given access to recreation, depending on their housing status and other programs, including medical services.

Inmates eat lunch at 11 a.m. and are placed in lockdown again for an hour. Another head count is taken. Lockdown is lifted at 1 p.m., but goes into effect again at 2:45 p.m. for another shift change and another head count.

Dinner is served around 4:30 p.m. Inmates are locked in again from 6 to 7 p.m., then come out of lockdown until about 10:45 p.m.

Brackett said he can’t recall any security issues related to the ICE detainees and said there’s no noticeable difference between their behavior and other county inmates. He said all of the inmates are expected to follow the rules.

“There isn’t necessarily a difference. We have good detainees and, every once in a while, we’ll have a bad detainee, just like I have a good county inmate and every once in a while I’ll have a bad county inmate,” Brackett said.

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