The regional jail board recently heard about efforts to comply with demands of immigration detainees held at the jail.
A handful of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees held at the Northern Oregon Regional Correctional Facilities in The Dalles went on hunger strike for about a week in May.
They cited a lack of access to music players and not enough hot meals, among other things.
Jail Administrator Bryan Brandenburg told the jail board June 15 that the jail would be installing microwaves in all of its 11 units, and updating equipment from its communications provider, Telmate, to allow inmates to have tablets to play music.
The changes will apply to all inmates at the facility.
The microwaves will go in likely sometime in July, after wiring is run to the units.
The jail board will have a work session July 20 to further discuss detainees, including a look at the difference in housing conditions between the regional jail and the Tacoma Detention Center, which holds 1,500 ICE detainees.
The jail says it treats ICE detainees no different than any other inmate. A protest group that has picketed outside the jail daily since May contends the detainees face civil immigration charges and should not be in jail-like conditions.
ICE contracts with the regional jail to house detainees, something it has done off and on almost since the jail opened in 1999. It currently contracts for the jail to hold as many as 40 detainees, but is averaging about 20 a day now.
Detainees had also claimed, via clergy who are allowed to visit them, that they did not have access to immigration-related information at the regional jail’s law library. Brandenburg said that wasn’t true.
Jail Lt. Dan Lindhorst said the current system allows access to immigration-related legal information, as well as forms so detainees can prepare their case. The service is free.
Access to the law library will be further improved with the planned update from Telmate. It will replace the current wall-mounted kiosks, where inmates either make phone calls or have video visits, with tablets that inmates can use to make calls, have video chats, or listen to music and watch edited TV shows and movies.
The update will occur in 60 to 90 days, Lindhorst said.
The jail, which typically has 100 to 130 inmates, will have one tablet for every eight to 10 inmates.
Kelly O’Neil, director of account management for Telmate, said the cost for phone calls is 25 cents a minute for anywhere in Oregon, and 21 cents per minute outside of Oregon.
The price of a remote video chat is also 25 cents a minute. But those video chats are reserved times that have to be in blocks of 30 minutes, so it costs $7.50, O’Neil said.
In-person visits at the regional jail ended a few years ago. Now, visits take place via video.
Clergy members who attended the jail meeting said detainees are allowed in-person visits with family at the Tacoma Detention Facility.
The Tacoma facility has reached capacity and overflow detainees are being housed elsewhere, including at NORCOR.
Detainees have said the regional jail is the worst facility on the West Coast, although they make a point to say they are treated well by the regional jail staff. It is rather a function of a lack of amenities.
Lindhorst said the regional jail simply isn’t large enough to be able to provide the amenities the detention center can.
Rev. Judy Zimmerman, of the Mid-Columbia Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, lamented that she, as clergy, was allowed more visitation to detainees than their own families.
She said very young children who only see their parent on video “don’t understand that’s mommy or daddy.”
One detainee has spent close to two years – with occasional stints elsewhere – at the regional jail. He has a seven-year-old who hasn’t seen him in person for over three years, Zimmerman said.
The clergy and jail officials also give differing versions of whether the detainees are jailed on criminal charges.
Brandenberg said they are.
Susan Princehouse, retired pastor at Riverside Community Church and former senior prosecutor in King County, Wash., said a detainee she talked to had called police on noisy neighbors, only to end up detained based on an old, resolved felony.
She said the detainees face civil charges – that’s why they are not allowed an attorney for deportation proceedings – and should not be in a jail, which is meant for criminals.
Rev. Kelly Ryan, pastor at Bethel Congregational Church in White Salmon, said there needed to be better immigration resources. “This is not a place that’s well set up to house civil immigration” detainees.
Detainees also complained about not getting socks at the regional jail. Lindhorst said all inmates are issued shower shoes, but no socks. However, if they tell the nurse that the shoes are hard on their feet, they can get issued a pair of socks.
Zimmerman said the detainees have learned that if they ask the nurse for socks, they can get them.
Solea Kabakov is a leader of the jail protesters, and lauded the jail board for respectfully listening to their concerns, which she considered a positive step.