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Change of priority: As ICE bumps up security at the border, Strafford County jail sees hike in immigrant inmates

  • Strafford County Corrections Superintendent Chris Brackett stands in front of one of the units of the jail on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. There are ICE detainees mixed into all of the units of the jail. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A jail inmate in the substance  abuse unit of the Strafford County jail on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Strafford County House of Corrections Superintendent Chris Brackett speaks inside one of the units at the jail Tuesday. The Stafford County jail is one of six New England facilities where undocumented immigrants are housed. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • An inmate at the Strafford County Department of Corrections in Dover in one of the units on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A detainee at the Strafford County jail in Dover talks in Spanish on the phone in front of an ICE poster on Tuesday. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Strafford County jail superintendent Chris Brackett (right) talks with an inmate at the facility during a tour Tuesday.

  • An inmate uses a phone in one of the units of the Stafford County Department of Corrections on Tuesday, June 26, 2018. Some of the information on the wall pertained to consulate information. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Monday, July 02, 2018

In the jail common room, half of the dozen inmates were watching Law & Order, and the other half were watching a World Cup soccer game.

A man spoke in Spanish on the phone near a list of consulates and embassies.

“I don’t know everybody’s backstory as to why they’re here,” Strafford County jail superintendent Chris Brackett said, looking around the unit. “We just try and make sure wherever these people go next, they leave feeling like they were treated fairly.”

The Strafford County Department of Corrections in Dover is one of six places in New England where undocumented immigrants are housed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as they go through the court system on their way to being deported.

Brackett said there are seven times as many undocumented immigrants at the facility today than when the jail began housing ICE detainees in 2009. In that first year, the jail housed an average of 17 detainees a day, compared to 115 a day in 2018.

ICE pays Strafford County $83 per day for each detainee, who can stay at the facility for as long as six months or for as little as 24 hours. In 2017, ICE paid the Strafford County jail $2,787,140 to house undocumented immigrants.

Some offenders are brought in after being arrested for crimes, others are charged with nothing more than overstaying a visa, advocates say.

Undocumented immigrants are mixed in with the general prison population and treated like any other inmate, Brackett said. They have access to the jail’s iPads, they can order library books, send and receive letters and watch videos sent by loved ones.

They live in low, medium or high security units based on classifications assigned by ICE before their arrival. Some spend their times in units with 72 other inmates, with a common space and a cell with a roommate. Others, accused of committing more severe crimes in addition to immigration violations, may be housed alone in a cell in maximum security, where they stay 23 hours a day.

Although the immigration status of detainees is disclosed to officers, it is not generally known by other prisoners.

“We tell people through the booking process, ‘the reason why you’re here is your business and your business only,’ ” Brackett said. “You don’t have to disclose any information you don’t want to.”

Growing enforcement

Nationally, immigration has become a hot button issue as President Donald Trump has called for tighter border restrictions resulting in children being separated from their parents along the southern border with Mexico.

In New Hampshire, increased border patrols have come with a boost in funding from the Trump administration. Throughout the summer, border patrol agents have scheduled six checkpoints along the state’s highways. So far, two of those operations have netted more than 20 undocumented immigrants for deportation this year.

Presumably, they were sent to the jail in Strafford County, but ICE officials aren’t saying. Immigration officials refused multiple requests for comment for this story.

At the jail, Brackett said the staff doesn’t know where the detainees come from before they get to the facility, or where they go when they leave.

Despite the increase in immigration cases, housing undocumented immigrants is nothing new for the Strafford County jail, which began housing ICE detainees around 2009, Strafford County administrator Ray Bower said.

When the jail was being built in 2004, several federal agencies were looking for a local facility to house their prisoners. The U.S. Marshals contributed more than $1 million to the construction of the jail, and ICE piggybacked on the arrangement a few years later, Bower said.

And while the number of detainees at Strafford County has increased by about 10 percent since Trump took office, the largest increase was actually during former president Barack Obama’s administration.

From 2015 to 2016, the number of undocumented immigrants housed in Strafford County per day jumped from around 30 to 80, according to data provided by the jail.

Eva Castillo, the director of the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said these days more people are getting picked up for mundane reasons and sent to Strafford County.

Recently, a soon-to-be father was sent to the jail after he was found fishing without a license in Hampton. Castillo heard of an undocumented mother who was sent to jail after she was pulled over for doing an illegal u-turn.

In years past, ICE prioritized detaining people who had criminal histories.

“Now, the sky is the limit,” Castillo said. “They don’t care if you have been here 50 years, that you’ve never committed a crime, that you have pending immigration applications, or children. If they find you, you’re gone.”

Life in Strafford County

The Strafford County jail is the only detention center in New Hampshire where undocumented immigrants are housed. Bower said the federal involvement from agencies like ICE tend to make the jail better because of the funding and exacting federal standards.

Twice a year, ICE runs a four-day inspection of the jail, where five inspectors come to examine 43 standards and about 600 substandards ranging from food temperature to inmate conduct, Bower said. The jail’s medical unit is inspected anywhere from six to 12 times a year.

And with the millions per year that come into the facility from housing detainees, Strafford County is able to continue to run programs like their therapeutic community, an award-winning segregated substance abuse treatment program, instead of relying so heavily on taxpayers.

Just like other prisoners at Strafford County jail, undocumented inmates can have up to two hours of visits each week, they can buy phone time for calls to loved ones, Brackett said.

“That’s not our call to say, ‘you’re not going to get that because you’re going to be deported,’ ” Brackett said. “We don’t do that. We treat everybody equally.”

Bower said that in some cases, ICE detainees might get more privileges than other inmates. For example, in language interpretation services.

“We’ve had anybody from speaking Mandarin, to Portuguese, to certain dialects of Creole, to all of those things,” Brackett said.

The jail offers language interpretation services, with in-person interpreters and a computerized interpreting software, which can translate more than 100 languages.

Bower said they tend to make more language, food and religious accommodations for undocumented immigrants. They recently ordered a few books in Romanian that an inmate requested to read.

The jail also welcomes advocacy groups to come in and work with detainees.

Nancy Pape of the New Hampshire Conference of the United Church of Christ is one volunteer who comes to the jail weekly to teach a “Know Your Rights Class” to around 30 detainees at a time.

Pape said one topic covered in her class is immigrants’ right to an attorney, if they can afford one. She said immigrants usually have two main questions for her: “How do I make my deportation happen as soon as possible?” or “How do I avoid deportation altogether?”

Leaving

The jail will receive anywhere from a few minutes to a few days notice that an ICE detainee is going to be taken out of the facility, Brackett said. Jail staff doesn’t know where detainees go when they leave – and they don’t ask questions.

“We find out that there’s a list of people that are going to be taken out of the facility and then what ICE chooses to do with them is their decision,” Brackett said. “We just leave a light on.”

When most prisoners are released from the jail, they’ll be given their commissary funds in the form of a check or debit card.

Detainees, however, will get a baggie filled with American currency.

“If they are going to be deported, a check drawn on Citizens Bank will do them absolutely no good,” Brackett said.