Tulsa County looks to end jail bed, transport contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency

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The Tulsa County Jail. CLIFTON ADCOCK/The Frontier
Tulsa County is considering ending its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to provide jail beds and transportation services at the Tulsa County Jail for immigrant prisoners held by the federal agency.

The Tulsa County Board of County Commissioners will consider at its regular meeting on Monday whether to send a 90-day termination notice to ICE that would end the contract, stating the benefit of providing jail and transportation services does not outweigh the cost, and the federal agency has not sent the county a request for renewal of the contract.

“The current contract executed and approved on April 29, 2019 in our opinion has expired since no renewal has been requested or authorized by the Board of Tulsa County Commissioners,” a June 12 letter from Commissioner Ron Peters to ICE’s Dallas Field office states. “The current population has remained below 20 detainees out of the 200 limits of the contract. It has become evident renewal would not be mutually beneficial.”

The letter goes on to provide a 90-day contract termination notice, but states the contract can be terminated sooner, should ICE agree to a shorter termination period.

Peters did not return a phone message from The Frontier by Thursday afternoon, and a phone message left for ICE’s public information officer was also not returned Thursday afternoon.

While ending the contract would mean Tulsa County would no longer supply jail beds to house and transportation services to ICE detainees, it does not end the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office’s participation in the 287(g) program, which allows local law enforcement agencies to perform limited immigration enforcement functions, such as arresting  normally assigned to ICE agents.  The 287(g) agreement with Tulsa County allows deputies at the Tulsa County Jail to identify, process and hold for ICE undocumented immigrants who are initially arrested on other criminal charges by local law enforcement.

Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Casey Roebuck said that while the current contract allows the jail to hold up to 200 detainees — and in the past the jail has briefly held more than that — the numbers of ICE detainees held for the agency has gradually declined to around 20 detainees on average being held in a pod capable of holding around 100 people.  

“It’s become not financially beneficial for this agency to continue that contract, that version of it,” Roebuck said. “They (ICE) really haven’t given us a reason why they’re not sending them here, but it’s not really responsible to continue to have an employee or two to man that pod if they’re not going to give us numbers to sustain those employees being dedicated solely to that.”

If the contract is cancelled, the detention officers who normally man that area would be used in other places, especially given the precautions the jail has had to take since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Roebuck said.

“The number of detention officers has always been an issue, but now that we have the safety pod — where we put the inmate for 14 days quarantine or until we get a negative COVID test on them — the number of detention officers is critical.”

Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado declined to comment on the possible contract termination until the commission was able to act on it Monday.

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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