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Federal audits slap Weber County Jail for serious violations

Published September 18, 2011 1:32 pm

Audits • Facility could lose $1.6M each year now that it can't house undocumented immigrants.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Ogden • The Weber County Jail faces a possible $1.6-million financial hit after losing the ability to house undocumented immigrants because staff failed to screen some new prisoners for tuberculosis, improperly viewed detainees naked during processing and didn't check the jail's perimeter fence daily, among other problems federal auditors found.

A 27-page inspection conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security — produced on July 13 and Aug. 4 — detailed a long list of violations that had spurred the removal of all federally-detained undocumented immigrants from the jail in late June. The Tribune recently obtained the report through an open-records request.

The feds' decision, Weber County Jail officials said, could cost them upward of $1.6 million in lost revenue. They said it already has cost them some $378,000, based on their claims of having a daily detainee population averaging about 80.

However, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement removed the detainees on June 22, the agency said there were only about 30 of them. ICE reported, prior to the removal of the detainees, that Weber County Jail averaged 62 detainees per day. That would put the revenue loss to date at about $293,000, with an annual loss of $1.2 million.

A second 19-page audit conducted by a firm contracted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security also found a series of similar violations at the Weber County Jail ­— though jail officials took issue with many of those findings.

This audit, also obtained through an open-records request, hammered the jail for not providing tuberculosis tests to detainees and noted that, in eight out of 10 medical charts reviewed by auditors, initial health screenings weren't reviewed by staff. Auditors also dinged the jail for not having a chronic care program in place and said those who did have those chronic medical conditions weren't seen regularly.

The second audit also cited a case of a detainee with a history of diabetes who was never seen by a doctor and didn't receive medication until seven weeks after arrival. But jail officials responded by saying the detainee's name was never revealed in the report and they couldn't verify the veracity of the finding.

Auditors noted a shortage of medical personnel on site, forcing a certified nursing assistant to distribute medications to detainees. Federal standards under the contract state CNAs "are not medication aide certified."

The audits offer the first explanation of the ICE detainees' removal last June. At the time, Weber County officials said they were not given specific reasons and ICE officials declined comment beyond saying a review of the jail was being conducted to ensure compliance with detention standards. The audits made no mention of the March death of one ICE detainee that several news reports referred to as a possible trigger for the federal review. Bosnian national Amra Miletic, 47, was found unconscious in her cell and later died at McKay-Dee Hospital of an apparent heart attack.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley wouldn't comment on the specifics of either of the audits' findings, but said in a statement that the jail fell short of its contractual obligations.

"Facilities under contract to house ICE detainees must conform to the agency's rigorous detention standards and undergo regular top-to-bottom inspections," Haley said. "Recent assessments of the Weber County Jail, performed by ICE and an independent contractor, revealed the facility was deficient in a number of areas."

But Weber County Sheriff Terry Thompson said his agency has had a good working relationship with ICE dating back to 2000 and that the violations outlined in the most recent audit caught him off-guard.

He said the ICE audits were sometimes vague in their directives — noting, for example, that the jail was asked to provide "adequate" computers or typewriters in a law library instead of telling them specifically how many.

"There's always some issues that need some work and we need to be better on and some things we do great on — that's the nature of an audit," Thompson said. "But for some reason, there are a number of things this time that haven't been issues before."

In one instance, he said, the audit docked the jail for not having a separate location for a barber for detainees and instead using a hallway to cut hair.

According to the audit, that is a violation of ICE's sanitation standards, which require the room for a barber to have hot water capable of maintaining a constant flow between 105 and 120 degrees, along with appropriate containers for waste, disinfectants, laundered towels and haircloths.

Thompson said his facility doesn't have the space to provide a separate room and that the way the jail cut hair since entering into the federal contract in 2000 has been fine.

"They've always worked with us in the past," Thompson said. "I don't know what's changed."

What changed was how the agency overhauled its oversight procedures when, in 2008, it completed a draft of 41 performance-based national detention standards that are now the basis for all audits of facilities with ICE detainees.

The goal was to fulfill a "desire to employ best practices and industry standards to improving the quality of life and the conditions of confinement for every individual ICE detainee," according to ICE fact sheets.

With the new guidelines, facilities under contract with ICE to house detainees must be in compliance with 100 percent of the mandatory components.

Weber County Corrections Division Chief Deputy Kevin Burton said that in the past, it had never been an all-or-nothing arrangement with ICE.

Weber County Undersheriff Kevin McCleod questioned ICE motives and said they appeared to be driven by Washington, D.C.

"It's turned into, in my opinion, a situation where they want them housed in a social-type attitude rather than a corrections attitude," McCleod said. "They describe them as detainees instead of inmates. They seem to want them handled in a social-club atmosphere."

McCleod said some of the violations highlighted in the audit could lead to inmate unrest because it doesn't treat everyone inside the jail as equals — which, he said, can lead to resentment and problems.

For example, he said, jail rules allow inmates to correspond via mail using only white postcards that can't be smaller than 3.5 inches by 4 inches and no larger than 8.5 inches by 11 inches.

This rule, according to the audit, "does not afford privacy for detainee mail."

But Thompson said other prisoners could use ICE detainees' letter privileges to correspond with people outside the jail or it could lead to violence or retaliation when word gets out that detainees have different rights.

He also cited the policy change that would force the jail to absorb the costs of doctor and prescription co-pays of $10 and $3, respectively, rather than having the prisoner pay for them. Thompson believes that inequality between the general population and the ICE detainee population also could lead to trouble.

"That's how my deputies end up getting hurt," Thompson said.

Jail officials also took issue with other items listed in second audit's findings — including one that showed the jail had no written policy and procedures for cell searches and was not conducting searches in accordance with ICE requirements. They also didn't agree with the audit's findings that vehicles entering the jail weren't properly documented and that deputies were allowed to dispense medications to detainees.

However, jail officials didn't disagree with all of the findings.

The second audit revealed the Weber County Jail doesn't document perimeter fence checks daily, but instead the fence is "checked a couple times a week."

They also didn't dispute several food-related problems identified in the audit, including inmates with facial hair preparing meals without beard guards, improper storage of food items and a lack of comprehensive menu choices sensitive to religious beliefs — namely meatless meals during Lent.

Based on ICE data, the agency has contracts with more than 300 local and state facilities to house detainees. In Utah, there are now just two jails that house ICE detainees long term: Utah and Washington counties. The combined average daily population of those two sites is about 212 ICE detainees.

Most of those — 197 — are in the Utah County Jail, which charges ICE $72.25 per inmate per day. Weber County, by contrast, charged $55 per inmate per day. Washington County gets paid $58.

Thompson said it was unclear whether ICE would allow Weber to resume housing detainees. He said officials would deal with the shortfall through "belt-tightening," but said he didn't anticipate any layoffs.

"We've made some adjustments," Thompson said, "but we're not making plans to let people go or cut positions."

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero —

Online

O Read the audits.

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