County jail to get money for housing illegal aliens
EAGLE, Colorado – The federal government will start paying Eagle County to jail illegal aliens for up to three days.
The new jail, half the $43 million justice center project the county commissioners approved in 2008, holds 120 prisoners. Right now, around 60 prisoners are there, according to Capt. Bill Kaufman, who runs the jail for the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.
That leaves plenty of room for illegal aliens picked up by ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
Starting in October, the feds will pay the Sheriff’s Office $47 a day to house illegals picked up in the region, Kaufman said.
Kaufman said ICE estimates it could mean $10,000 in revenue annually for the Sheriff’s Office.
The old jail could hold 88 prisoners. The new jail can hold 120 prisoners.
The new jail opened Dec. 28 with just over 80 prisoners when the county commissioners cut the ribbon to open it.
The old jail was deemed inadequate when the county commissioners approved the project.
Starting in October, the feds will soon start storing some of their short-term ICE prisoners there, illegal aliens swept up when they commit some other crime, Kaufman said.
After 72 hours, the feds have to pick them up, Kaufman said.
During their 72 hours in the Eagle County jail, prisoners get English as a Second Language classes, life skills classes in English, religious programming, media, access to televisions and phones. If they’re locked up locally long enough they have access to a CD-based legal library. If they ask nicely, they might get a pencil and paper to take notes. Kaufman pointed out that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee prisoners access to a printer.
Most of the programming, like the jail’s big screen televisions and video games, are paid for by the inmates through their telephone fees, Kaufman said.
Then there are the restorative justice classes that puts prisoners in contact with crime victims.
It forces prisoners to come to grips with the impact their crimes have on their victims and their families, and the community. It’s designed to reduce recidivism, Kaufman said.
ICE prisoners are considered civil detainees, Kaufman said. They’ll be segregated from other prisoners, and will wear different jail uniforms.
The $47 a day could come in handy, Kaufman said.
The Sheriff’s Office faces $2.5 million in budget cuts as part of the county’s shrinking property tax revenues.
The Sheriff’s Office is funded out of the county’s $36 million general fund, the checkbook through which the county conducts its day-to-day business.
The Sheriff’s Office 2010 budget is $11,027,812, according to the county’s budget numbers.
The county’s general fund comes from property taxes, and property taxes are projected to fall 30 percent between now and 2012, according to estimates by the Eagle County Assessor’s office. The county commissioners cannot raise property tax rates without a public vote, under Colorado’s TABOR Amendment.
“We’ll lay out a buffet of options for the commissioners, and wait to see what they decide,” Kaufman said.
Among the options: Close the jail and furlough the entire jail staff. That would meet the entire budget cut requirement. Local prisoners could be housed in Garfield County and transported in for court dates. That would cost $50 a day per prisoner, Kaufman said. It’s not likely, but it’s an option, Kaufman said.
For the wonks among us, the justice center project is being paid for through the county’s capital improvements fund. That’s sales-tax based and raises about $4 million a year, according to the 2010 budget. Of that $4 million, $1.64 million is funneled to the justice center.