Jail suspends immigration holds

With facility near capacity, sheriff makes local inmates higher priority

The Mesa County Jail is popping at the seams with so many local inmates that it can’t accept any more Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds.

The ban on ICE holds is temporary until the jail population recedes, Mesa County Sheriff Stan Hilkey said.

“We don’t have the space at the moment,” he said.

The temporary situation does not mean prisoners will be let go, or that suspects will not be incarcerated, Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Heather Benjamin said.

“If we had the space available to work with ICE, providing that short-term space to house someone so (ICE) can make arrangements to get those illegals to a long-term facility on the eastern slope, then we are happy to work with them on that,” Benjamin said. “(But) when we need that space to house our own inmates, that’s a priority.”

Suspected illegal immigrants with ICE holds were being housed in the gym at the Mesa County Jail. The gym is currently holding “internal inmate workers.” The ICE holds, which averaged about one per day over the course of a year, would usually stay in the jail for 24 hours, Hilkey said.

“We didn’t hardly generate much revenue with that,” he said.

The jail would see a profit of about $10 per inmate, or about $3,650 a year.

The county jail has had to suspend its contract with ICE, which allows holds to be kept in the county jail for up to 72 hours, a few times in the past.

“We have suspended it before and came back into it,” Hilkey said.

The county’s contract with ICE notes it will be suspended if the jail is at capacity. The jail’s population is 355 to 360 inmates, Hilkey said.

The jail has 336 built-in beds, but by adding bunk beds and housing some inmates in the gym, the Sheriff’s Department is finding ways to stretch the jail’s capacity.

After 15 years of steady population increases, the jail’s population has remained relatively flat the past five years. Instead of investing in a new jail pod, the county invested in a methamphetamine treatment facility and beefed up alternative sentencing programs, such as work release and weekenders, a program allowing the convicted to work off their sentences during the weekend.

That approach has worked. But Hilkey said it won’t work forever.

“When (jail population) creeps up to 400, it makes it more difficult to run,” Hilkey said.

“What we better be doing is having a plan in place so we can respond to it when it does grow.”

Hilkey’s budget request last year asked for funds to open up bottlenecks in the jail, such as the booking area and temporary holding cells, but it was denied by the Mesa County Commission, which is dealing with its own budget shortfalls.


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