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Glades ICE jail reported closing

An administrative officer with the Baker County Sheriff’s Office says there’s no cause for alarm at a report that the Glades County jail that served as a model for the struggling Baker County facility is closing for lack of ICE inmates.
The facility will reportedly close in the next few months, according to a story in the Glades County Democrat published April 10.
Two days before, reporter Charles M. Murphy wrote, Glades County Sheriff Stuart Whiddon made the announcement at a meeting of the Glades County Commission, citing a loss of inmates from the federal agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, that cost the jail $1 million during a two month period.
“We had a meeting with ICE in Miami last Friday and had a heart-to-heart with them and they told us it probably won’t get much better,” the sheriff was quoted as saying.
He explained the Glades County jail needs at least 400 inmates to stay afloat, but it has averaged about 200 in recent months.
Officials in Baker County, where federal inmates including ICE are housed, have said they need about 400 inmates in all, including local prisoners and those from other federal agencies, to remain financially viable.
Brian Bishop, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office administration chief, said there’s nothing to worry about here, and questioned the veracity of the article in the Glades County newspaper.
“We have been in communication with Glades County officials and they state that they are not closing their facility and are in fact continuing to operate and hold ICE detainees,” said Mr. Bishop by e-mail last week.
“We have not seen a drastic reduction, in fact, February ICE ADP [average daily population] was 216, which is above what we had been told to prepare for,” he said.
The next month in March, ICE average dropped slightly to 202, according to a report from the sheriff’s office, which manages the county jail that’s owned by the nonprofit Baker Correctional Development Corporation, or BCDC.
Since October, the beginning of BCDC’s fiscal year, the average has hovered between a low last month of 202  and a high in January of 232.
According to the Glades County Democrat, however, the facility there has a $3 million reserve fund that can keep it operating for three to five months, but 100 layoffs are expected along with the transfer of inmates back to the former county jail, which needs minor repairs to accommodate the move.
The Glades County sheriff’s administration offices, now at the new Glades facility, are expected to move to the county health department.
Mr. Bishop said there’s no cause for concern in Baker County, though. He said Sheriff Joey Dobson spoke with Sheriff Whiddon and Dobson was assured the facility was not closing.
“Since it appears that Glades is not going to be closing, we would anticipate no change in our situation. We are confident in our partnership with ICE. This is based on our communication with ICE leadership, reinforcing our partnership and expressing to us the value of our facility in their operation,” said Mr. Bishop.
But it may not be ICE that local officials have to worry about.
Glades County officials reportedly blamed the loss of federal prisoners on the Obama administration’s relaxation of enforcement of immigration laws.
“This isn’t because of how we ran the facility,” Sheriff Whiddon was quoted as saying. “This is about Democrats in Washington not wanting to arrest people who are here illegally.”
Sheriff Whiddon did not return a call from The Press attempting to confirm his public statements.
Other recent news reports show there may be some validity to the criticism about lax enforcement of immigration laws.
TheHill.com, which chronicles Congress and the national political scene, reported on March 31 that ICE officials released some 68,000 illegal immigrants during 2013.
The Hill cited an internal Department of Homeland Security document known as the “Weekly Departures and Detention Report,” showing ICE agents encountered 193,357 illegal immigrants with past criminal convictions but issued charging documents for only 125,478.
The report is available online at http://cis.org/sites/cis.org/files/2013-wrd.pdf.
A follow-up story in the Democrat indicates the sheriff and the Glades Correctional Development Corporation (GCDC), the non-profit managing the facility, are negotiating with bondholders on its future.
“They (the bondholders) don’t want to close it,” Sheriff Whiddon was quoted as saying. “We’re trying to come up with something, financially, that will work.”
According to the Glades sheriff, who inherited the facility from his predecessor who he defeated and who has since died, the county and bondholders have been hung out to dry by ICE because they promised to fill the jail then ceased picking up illegals on orders from Washington.
His sentiments were echoed by Alvin Ward, chairman of the non-profit GCDC. Said he, “They said if you build it, we’ll fill it. ICE is not holding up their end of the bargain.”
GCDC secured a 24-year, $33 million bond to build the facility. Its counterpart in Baker County bonded through the same broker for $40 million on a 3o-year obligation.

Joel Addington

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