- Associated Press - Thursday, December 21, 2017

JEROME, Idaho (AP) - Jerome County is exploring new options for leasing excess beds at its jail after nearly a year of waiting on a contract from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The contract, which would allow the federal agency to lease 50 beds at the Jerome jail, has been criticized by local and civil rights organizations saying the move would create a culture of fear among the area’s Hispanic community, the Times-News reported .

The agency last January described Jerome as an “ideal location” to lease 50 beds to make up for a lack of space in Utah. By establishing a presence in Jerome, the agency says it would save money by cutting the transportation costs of sending detainees to Seattle or Salt Lake City.

The agency said in mid-September it was moving forward with the contract in Jerome, but Sheriff Doug McFall says he’s still waiting.

County officials say they’re considering alternatives to the deal.

Commissioner Charlie Howell wants to see Jerome take more state prisoners that might otherwise be sent out of state due to overcrowding in Idaho prisons.

McFall says he would rather pursue a potential contract with the U.S. Marshal’s Office.

The Marshal’s Office contacted Jerome County roughly a month and a half ago to express interest in renting bed space, McFall said. Like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Marshal’s Office is expected to pay $75 per bed per day.

The 135-bed jail already houses some state prisoners, but there isn’t an official contract between the Idaho Department of Correction and the county.

Howell would like to see that change.

“Why are we spending state money out of state when we can keep state money in state?” Howell said. “Our economic driver’s always to buy local, buy local, buy local. Why aren’t we serving local also?”

Idaho Department of Correction Director Henry Atencio told Republic State Rep. Clark Kauffman Wednesday the state would be open to sending more prisoners to Jerome.

“I guess they were under the impression that Jerome was waiting to be a repository for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” Kauffman said. “He said, ‘Boy, we would be glad to send prisoners to Jerome as opposed to out of state.’ And so we just kind of got the ball rolling for them to call the Jerome County sheriff or Commissioner Howell and see if they can make a deal.”

Atencio confirmed the state is indeed interested in leasing additional beds at the Jerome County Jail “as soon as we can.”

“That is definitely progress and a step in the right direction,” said Benjamin Reed, public relations coordinator with Jerome United Making Progress (JUMP), a local group opposed to the ICE contract. “If they would abandon their pipe dream of getting this contract with ICE for easy money and get something that would benefit all of us in the state, that would heal a lot of community tension.”


Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com

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