Cecil County Sheriff Joins ICE Program to Turn Over Illegals, Won’t House Detainees at Jail; Sheriff Faces Guard Shortage

May 1, 2019
By

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams has signed an agreement with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to co-operate with ICE to identify and turn over Detention Center inmates who are being sought as illegal immigrants. But the county is not participating in a separate federal program that would rent out space at the county jail to hold people awaiting court decisions on immigrant status cases.

In response to questions from CECIL TIMES, Adams acknowledged his agency’s new pact for participation with ICE and emphasized that his deputies would not be stopping drivers to inquire about citizenship status or actively seeking out people who might be in the US illegally. “This is just a matter of running background checks on the ICE computer system for people who have already been convicted on local charges,” Adams said in an interview with CECIL TIMES.

Inmates would serve their court-ordered jail time after conviction in local courts, he said, and then turned over to ICE if they had outstanding warrants in immigration cases.

“We do background checks on incoming inmates all the time,” Adams said. It is routine to check for outstanding warrants on state or local charges in other areas, he said, and this new program would simply add another layer of computerized background checks on special, dedicated ICE computer systems.

The co-operation agreements, known as 287g accords, provide that some members of the local Sheriff’s or law enforcement agency be trained, at ICE expense, in that agency’s guidelines and how to use special databases to check immigration status and outstanding warrants in the ICE system. Adams said that two of his employees will receive the two weeks ICE training, but he has delayed that training at an out-of-state location due to current staff shortages at the Detention Center.

In Maryland, Harford and Frederick counties are listed on the ICE website as participating in the 287g program. Under a separate ICE program, known as Intergovernmental Service Agreements (IGSA) Howard, Frederick, and Worcester counties are listed as providing leased space at their local jails to house ICE prisoners for potentially long-term stays.

Until recently, Anne Arundel County participated in both programs. But the new County Executive, Steuart Pittman, who was elected last November, decided to cancel the county’s participation in the 287g co-operation program because of concerns with how immigrants might be targeted or profiled. However, he wanted to retain the county jail in the IGSA program—under which the county leased out 130 beds at its jail in Glen Burnie, with income to the county of about $4 million in the past year. Pittman said he would dedicate some of those revenues to provide legal counsel to detainees facing court cases on their immigration status, according to local media reports in the Annapolis Capital Gazette.

But once scorned, ICE decided in January to terminate the Anne Arundel jail lease contract since the county was no longer co-operating with the other program to identify illegal immigrants.

In Cecil County, Sheriff Adams said he was not looking to set up a jail space lease arrangement with ICE to house that agency’s prisoners. On Tuesday, (4/30/2019), Adams told a Cecil County Council budget worksession that the county Detention Center is facing a serious shortage of correctional officers to supervise prisoners—with 13 vacant positions.

“It’s a tough job,” he told the Council. Corrections officers face burnout from dealing with potentially violent prisoners and the current low starting pay levels for their jobs versus rising wages in the county, such as new jobs created at the Amazon facility and other new employers that create alternative job options with less stress or danger. Adams sought, and won, enactment of legislation in the General Assembly this year to allow correctional officers in the county to engage in collective bargaining negotiations, like deputies and emergency services workers in the county already have, that will likely lead to better pay in the future.

One thing that will remain to be seen as a result of Adams’ decision to participate in the ICE co-operation program is how quickly ICE will act to pick up immigrants from the local jail. Many current or former law enforcement officials in Maryland have complained on social media that ICE is notoriously slow to pick up identified illegal immigrants from local jails, leaving local officials to ponder whether to continue to hold people at their local county’s expense or release them if ICE does not follow through on their pledge to assume custody in a timely fashion. And the loss of the Anne Arundel county facility for longer term housing of immigrant detainees means that there are fewer options in the state for detention.

Meanwhile, Adams outlined his broader budget and policy initiatives before the County Council, citing a pattern of lower crime rates in the county since he took office. Adams, who is a Republican, was unopposed in the last election for re-election as county Sheriff—an unprecedented in recent years gesture of confidence in his administration by county political organizations and voters.

Adams cited new statistics showing a continued decline in county crime, such as an overall 13 percent crime drop in 2018, and a 34 percent decline since 2014, when Adams was first elected. He said that drug crime arrests are still the top statistic of his agency. But Adams has also been a pioneer in pro-active drug rehabilitation efforts, such as becoming one of the first jails in the state to offer a medication that blocks the effects of heroin for released inmates and connecting them with counseling and rehab programs both before and after release from jail.

Adams’ new budget proposal to the county includes just one new employee request: a clerical position that he said was needed due to a massive increase in requests for expungement of criminal records and Public Information Act requests.

The Sheriff’s Office has one of the most complex and varied budget documents in local government, with spending, capital construction and grants/revenues spread over multiple sub-agencies, such as law enforcement, Detention Center, and Community Corrections/work release programs. But the most relevant for county residents is the law enforcement component of the budget, which supports the deputies on patrol who respond to calls for help from residents and apprehends criminals. That segment of the new budget would rise to $13,598,056, an increase of $978,123 or 7.8 percent—largely due to contract-negotiated pay boosts for long-time deputies.

For many years, the deputies on patrol segment of the agency suffered staff vacancies and turnover, but on Adams’ watch the vacancies and turnover problems have largely been reduced or stabilized.

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