A new jail contract with an as-yet unnamed county, and more beds rented for immigration detainees, has NORCOR officials poised to add a number of new positions.
The Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities is negotiating to rent 22 beds to another county.
“An additional 22 inmates increases the workload significantly,” said Bryan Brandenburg, administrator.
He wouldn’t name the county since the deal is not finalized.
Those guaranteed beds mean money the jail can count on. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is slated to use twice as many beds — 44 — but the use is not guaranteed.
Given those increases in jail bed use, the upcoming budget anticipates adding four control room technicians, increasing a half-time nursing position to full-time, and adding a half-time maintenance person.
Hiring control room technicians will allow the four deputies who now work in the control room to “go on the floor so they can enhance our security,” said Brandenburg. Control room technicians are less expensive positions than deputies.
The four counties that own the regional jail – Wasco, Hood River, Sherman and Gilliam – use about 90 beds. The roughly 44 ICE beds and 22 new-county beds brings the anticipated jail bed count to 156 beds.
The jail anticipates getting $500,000 from the new county contract, with a possibility of it increasing another $200,000, and $1 million from ICE, according to draft minutes of a March 30 budget meeting.
While the use of jail beds by ICE has gone up significantly – just $200,000 is budgeted from ICE in the current fiscal year — the jail is leery of relying on the added income. ICE has been a steady customer in the past, only to pull completely out of the jail, forcing it to lay people off.
ICE does not guarantee it will use a certain amount of beds, and it has the right to stop using them at any time.
The regional jail just finished paying off the 20-year bond to build the jail. As an effort to seek more secure funding, it will ask voters at the May 16 election to continue paying that same level of taxation — 26 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation — as a permanent tax rate.
That would raise $1.3 million from all four counties and help reduce pressure on each county to come up with its share of jail funding.
The jail costs $8 million a year to operate, and the four counties contribute $3.8 million towards it. Wasco County’s portion is $1.9 million.
At the March 30 jail board meeting, a group of 25-30 people attended, raising questions about the ICE detainees. While information about local inmates arrested in the four counties are posted on the jail’s website, federal rules prohibit releasing any information about ICE detainees, Brandenburg said.
Sheriffs at the meeting said even they don’t have access to information on the ICE detainees.
Brandenburg told the Chronicle later, “I’ve been told I can’t put them on my webpage. I’d like to put them on my webpage.”
Amber Orion, a spokesperson of the group of people who attended the jail meeting, has taken a new interest in the ICE detentions at the jail since the election of President Trump and the increased push to deport illegal immigrants.
“I am born and raised here in America,” Orion told the Chronicle. “I have a couple of kids; my oldest son, his father became a citizen at 18, got his paperwork and what not, and my son was born and raised here. But my son is a six-foot-tall, 200-pound brown kid, and I worry about him.
“I worry about him being harassed, accosted, picked up. This is where my mind goes,” she said.
Orion helped found the group Gorge ReSisters, a progressive group that organized the Women’s March in The Dalles in January.
She said her group has provided help to families being contacted by immigration officers, but she declined to give specifics.
Orion and others questioned the board about how they know for sure that the ICE detainees being accepted at the jail actually have a criminal charge and are not solely being detained for being in the country illegally.
NORCOR has had a longstanding policy that it will only accept detainees who have criminal charges. But it became evident at the meeting, Orion said, that there was no certainty that that was the case, other than NORCOR stating its policy to ICE and believing ICE was following it.
According to draft minutes of the meeting, immigration attorney MariRuth Petzing asked what documentation accompanied ICE detainees, and whether it listed current criminal charges, and whether a criminal warrant was attached to the charges.
She said ICE’s Tacoma detention facility, where most detainees lodged here come from, is not a criminal court, and the ICE detainees at NORCOR do not necessarily have criminal charges.
Jail Lt. Dan Lindhorst said “to his knowledge, and with the information that is available, all of the transfers have been held on criminal charges,” according to draft minutes.
Orion said, “When ICE comes in, they don’t even get to see the warrant. They literally said in the meeting they take their word for it, which was just kind of shocking.”
When Petzing asked if it could be learned if the criminal charges were recent or old, Lindhorst said there was no way to know that.
Brandenburg told those at the meeting he would confer with ICE to verify that charges are criminal. He told the Chronicle he did get confirmation from ICE that all detainees lodged at NORCOR have faced criminal charges.
“They’ve been involved at some point in time in the criminal justice system,” he said. He also learned that the detainees placed in NORCOR by ICE have “final removal orders” placed on them.
While jail officials said detainees had federal warrants, Petzing said she’s seen federal warrants, but they are “very rare.”
What is more common is what’s called an administrative warrant, which is not signed by a judge and is not a criminal warrant.
“They’re an administrative convenience but they don’t meet a constitutional requirement for detention,” Petzing told the Chronicle of administrative warrants.
In the meeting, according to minutes, Hood River Sheriff Matt English said no jail in Oregon would hold someone on an administrative warrant.
It was learned that the ICE detainees come in with what’s called an I-203 form, but it is not public record. The form does list a person’s charges, Brandenburg said.
Brandenburg told the Chronicle that all detainees “have to have had a prior occurring criminal charge in order for ICE to detain them. One of those charges can be alien inadmissibility.”
He said, “We’ve made it clear to ICE we only want people who have criminal charges, because we’re a jail. I don’t want to hold people who aren’t criminals.”
He said the jail only holds detainees who are legally in ICE’s custody.
“They have criminal charges, and those criminal charges range from drug dealing and assaults and homicides and DUII’s, and some pretty petty things, That’s for ICE to decide,” he said.
He said the jail’s contract with ICE stipulates that the jail will hold ICE detainees under three conditions: “One, is those who are charged with federal offenses and are being detained while awaiting trial. Two, individuals who have been sentenced and are awaiting a transport to a bureau of prisons facility, and three, individuals who are awaiting a hearing on their immigration status or deportation.”
Citizens at the meeting asked about steps the jail was taking to reduce jail population and cut costs.
Since being named jail administrator almost two years ago, Brandenburg has focused on reducing recidivism, which is when released inmates commit more crimes and end up back behind bars.
In his tenure, overall recidivism has dropped from 75 percent, where it had been for last three years, down to 64 percent so far this year, he said.
The mental health population has gone from an average of 45 a month a year ago to averaging 15 last month, he said.
“We’re not gonna ever work ourselves out of a job, but the idea is we want people to be incarcerated who really need to be incarcerated — the ones we’re afraid of vs. the ones we’re mad at,” he said.
He said wraparound services, including mental health and case management, are in place. “Where previously we just released people from the front door, like, ‘Good luck! Hope it works out!’”
Jail board officials asked why the people who came to the meeting were suddenly concerned about the regional jail and who was lodged there.
Orion said, “Part of this is the political climate and part of it is I take full responsibility for not being as politically involved as I should have been. We weren’t, but now we are, so let’s work.”
Wasco County Sheriff Lane Magill said immigration is one of the most challenging subjects he’s had to deal with, and he gets calls from constituents who are both for and against the current immigration climate. He said for the last eight weeks he’s spent two to five hours a day dealing with immigration-related questions.
Orion learned that the jail houses both juvenile and adult ICE detainees, and that juveniles and adults are segregated, as are males and females.
Orion said she didn’t like that the jail was using the ICE contract. “It’s not stable, it doesn’t feel particularly moral.” She said she didn’t know if her group would take a stance on the jail tax rate issue in May.
According to draft meeting minutes, Jail board member and Hood River County Commissioner Ron Rivers “said he was not any bigger fan of the current presidential administration than anyone else in the room, but the fact of the matter is that to keep the doors of NORCOR open, contractual services of some kind are needed or the counties will not be able to afford it.”
A few years earlier, one official said, the jail was at real risk of closing its doors due to an inability by the counties to help pay for it.
Orion told the Chronicle, “If this is in fact the direction we’re going in because we don’t have a choice in the matter, then we want the public to know about it.”
She said many people were unaware the local jail also housed immigration detainees. She said her group planned on continuing to attend jail meetings and learning more about the whole process.