The following letter was sent by Howard County Executive Ball to the Howard county Council on September 8th:
As you know, there has been an ongoing conversation for several months about the long-standing contract with US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Detention Center in Howard County. As some of you have shared your thoughts about the contract, I have conveyed to you that I believed there was a way to address concerns about justice and fairness while keeping the safety of our community a priority.
In August 2019, I met with CASA and began discussions regarding the contract and their concerns. As a result of that meeting and our commitment to ongoing transparency, Director Kavanaugh led a tour of the detention center with our Office of Law, CASA, interfaith leaders, advocates and local immigration attorneys. We continuously review our policies to address any community concerns and issues, including the contract with ICE and Detention Center Policy & Procedure C-205.
In November 2019, CASA requested another meeting to discuss elements of the contract. During that meeting and continued dialogue with CASA throughout August 2020, we were able to clarify some common misconceptions regarding whether ICE detainees receive the same treatment as other inmates at the Detention Center, especially during these unprecedented times. In fact, under our contract with ICE, and consistent with national standards, ICE detainees are often provided more benefits than what is provided to other inmates, as stated below:
- Detainee Visits – Currently, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, no in-person visits are allowed, except by attorneys. ICE detainees are permitted two 30-minute video visits per week. Requests can be made and are granted for additional visits when special circumstances arise, such as for family emergencies, deaths in the family, etc. County inmates and detainees receive the same visitation.
- Medical – ICE detainees receive the same medical treatment as County inmates. Currently, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Detention Center has followed recommendations of the Howard County Health Department for testing all staff and inmates, including ICE detainees. There have been six full rounds of testing. At this point, the Health Department is no longer recommending weekly testing. Instead, all staff and inmates are assessed daily to determine if they exhibit any symptoms, which would trigger new testing. All new inmates and detainees, including ICE detainees, coming into the Detention Center are quarantined for 14 days before being moved to a housing unit. No ICE detainee has exhibited symptoms consistent with COVID-19, and none have tested positive.
- Physical Recreation – ICE detainees receive one hour per day, seven days per week. County inmates receive one hour per day, but only five days per week.
- Education – ICE detainees receive 5 hours per week in the library. County inmates receive only 2 hours per week.
- Inmate / Detainee Marriage – ICE detainees can make a request to marry, which is handled by ICE, and be married outside the Detention Center. In contrast, marriages are not permitted for County inmates.
- Religious Services – ICE detainees are treated the same as county inmates.
While discussions with CASA have been more challenging than I had hoped over the last several months, a top priority of my Administration continues to be ensuring that Howard County is a safe and inclusive community where all residents are given the opportunity to thrive.
In early August of this year, CASA Executive Director Torres contacted me ready to collaborate and move forward together on the issues that we both believe are important.
While it is true that Howard County does not currently participate and has never participated in the 287(g) program like in Cecil, Frederick, and Harford counties during our 25 years of having this contract, we agree that the way immigration has been weaponized at the federal level in recent years is troubling and unacceptable. We also agree it is not enough that Howard County Police are not involved in any way with taking ICE detainees into custody or transporting them to the Detention Center. ICE agents make arrests, process all intakes at their Baltimore field office, and then use a private contractor to transport detainees to the Detention Center. We have always recognized our duty to care for individuals in our custody and have strived to meet the highest standards for all persons detained in or committed to the Detention Center, including ICE detainees.
I’m pleased to share with you that this week, after a great deal of work from my team and our community, we will be finalizing our work with CASA from the last several months. We believe that our policy revision will preserve public safety by ensuring that the contract with ICE and the Detention Center in Howard County clearly protects our community from convicted offenders while maintaining our commitment to fair treatment for all members of the community, regardless of immigration status.
Please know we remain focused on doing what we can to get things done as soon as possible in a way that will help unify our community. As you are aware, the community conversation during CB 9, while necessary at the time, was very difficult and frightening for many in our community. My hope is that we can make progress as a community in a unifying way, building upon areas of agreement and addressing issues of concern, not division.
As always, we will continue to collectively work towards the same goal of ensuring our community is safe, resilient, and empowered, so that our current and future generations will thrive.
All the Best,
Howard County Executive