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March 4, 2020
The Maryland House of Delegates will be considering HB 677, the Dignity Not Detention Act, some time this session. The bill would disallow counties from contracting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain immigrants. Currently, Howard, Frederick and Worcester Counties provide space to ICE in their county jails. There are no other ICE facilities in the state.
The bill has 42 co-sponsors, all Democrats. The balance of power in the House of Delegates favors Democrats, who hold 99 of 141 seats. The Democrats also hold 32 of 47 seats in the Senate. Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan will almost certainly veto the bill - though an override would be in reach, at least based on a strictly party line vote. Which means Maryland could well become the next state to restrict ICE detention.
Illinois and California’s governments passed laws last year to restrict the use of private contractors for the purposes of immigrant detention. ICE quickly did an end around the California law by extended extremely long contracts to private vendors days before the new law went into effect. Washington passed a bill similar to Maryland’s that disallows local governments from entering into contracts with ICE - though one of ICE’s largest private detention facilities is still operative in Tacoma. Because the only facilities in Maryland are the result of inter-governmental agreements with these three counties, Maryland would be the first state to effectively end all ICE (current) detention within its borders.
Those arguing for the bill point primarily to conditions within the jails, and the treatment of detainees therein. It is worth noting in this context, that of the 7 people to die in ICE custody this year, one person, Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi of Nigeria, died from apparent suicide in Worcester County jail. Freedom for Immigrants wrote a letter in support of HB 677 prior to hearings held on February 24. They note,
In FY20, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained a daily average of 55,000 people across a network of more than 200 jails and prisons. Freedom for Immigrants and our partner organizations have documented extensive abuses within these facilities, including medical neglect leading to death, retaliatory use of solitary confinement, barriers to legal counsel, racial discrimination, sexual assault, and physical abuse.
These human rights violations come at an extremely high cost to the taxpayer. According to FY18 data, the average cost of detention per person per day is $208.9 Taxpayers continue to foot the bill for a profit-driven and abusive system of mass incarceration despite viable alternatives to detention in the form of proven community-based support services, which can operate for as little as $17 a day.
Though detention capacity in Maryland is not currently very large, (about 150 person capacity in Howard and Frederick combined), ICE is currently seeking to expand its detention footprint in the state, as it is across the country.
The opposition positions are predictable, but worth noting. First is the money,
If House Bill 677 passed, [Worcester County Commissioner President Joe] Mitrecic said Worcester County could lose millions of dollars in needed revenue.
Mitrecic estimated the bill would cost Worcester County about $5 million, he said. Without that income, the county may be forced to cut its jail staffing and look at other ways to raise revenue such as tax increases.
“Worcester County is providing a service that’s funded by the federal government. And, again, I think that anybody that wants to become a citizen of the United States should have that opportunity,” Mitrecic said. “If they're here illegally and they're not trying to get their citizenship, then we have a service that we have to provide."
Then there is the stated concern about safety.
“I’ll put it very simply, the effect would be every person that’s arrested and found to be in this country illegally that’s in our detention center would be released back into the streets to commit more crime,” [Frederick County Sheriff Chuck ] Jenkins said.
Frederick County's cooperation with ICE has helped protect residents, Jenkins said. The sheriff points to the 1,564 detainers the county served in the last 12 years on individuals Jenkins called "criminals."
On the money - while one might sympathize with counties trying to meet budget needs, there is absolutely no reason to do this by “providing the service” of incarcerating people - most of whom, contrary to Sheriff Jenkins contention, are not criminals (and let's be honest, every year Frederick County and other jails release thousands of local residents who have served their time for committing crimes - that is what you do when the sentence is complete).
What might be more to the point is that Maryland in recent years was leading the country in reducing its state prison population - over 10% from 2013-2017. Frederick County had the greatest reduction in the incarceration of women of any county in the country. Indeed, Frederick County saw an overall decline in its daily average from 427 to 310. Less people incarcerated should be celebrated - unless your budget depends on keeping jails full. At $200 a day per bed, the average 32 beds filled by ICE detainees in Frederick County probably helps make up that budget shortfall.
Like state and local facilities across the country, Maryland jails have made up for this reduction in local people incarcerated by contracting with ICE to jail immigrants. This trend has driven an explosion of ICE incarceration in Louisiana, for example, whose state government has worked hard to reduce its nation-leading incarceration rate in recent years - while making up budget shortfalls created in the process with expanded ICE detention.
In response, people are pushing back. Rather than expand detention, we seek to end it. Maryland may well be the next state to take that step.