Mt. Vernon Register-News


December 6, 2012

ICE detainees withdrawn from jail

Medical staffing concerns caused ICE to move its prisoners off-site

MT. VERNON — Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees are no longer being transported to the Jefferson County Justice Center.

ICE concerns about the medical staffing led to detainees being transported from Jefferson County beginning Sunday, said Jefferson County Board Chairman Robert White in a press release. All but three of the ICE detainees have been moved off-site as of Wednesday afternoon, said Jefferson County Sheriff Roger Mulch.

“Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is temporarily relocating the immigration detainees housed at Jefferson County Jail to other facilities due to recent shortages in the medical staffing levels at the jail,” said Gail Montenegro, ICE public affairs Chicago, in an e-mail. “ICE took these proactive measures until the medical staffing levels at Jefferson County can be resolved, and to ensure that all ICE detainees receive timely and appropriate medical treatment. The health and safety of the individuals in our custody are our top priorities.”

Mulch said ICE is reducing its detainees at the jail because the jail is “revamping its medical division.”

Dr. Robert Parks and physician’s assistant Michelle Burwell tendered their resignation effective Jan. 1, 2013, and the JCJC must find a new doctor before more ICE prisoners can be transported to Mt. Vernon, Mulch said.

Parks and Burwell both declined to comment on the issue, according to an employee at Parks’ office.

Mulch said he plans to find a new physician or a package deal with a vendor on physicians’ and nurses’ services within the next 10 days, in order to allow ICE detainees to return to the JCJC.

“We can’t keep enough nurses on board,” Mulch said. “I asked the county board in my budget requests to increase part-time personnel and they wouldn’t do it. Some nurses are having to leave, and when we get new part-time people it takes two weeks to train them. We have five or six nurses, and when they leave their posts, of course we have to hire more.”

Mulch said the jail needs a vendor or to hire enough nurses to meet ICE’s standards.

“We are working on a plan of action as we speak,” Mulch said. “Hopefully in the very near future, we will have that resolved.”

Mulch said the resignation of Parks and Burwell, as well as the shortage of nurses, does not affect the housing of Cook County or US Marshals Service detainees.

White said the reasoning behind ICE removing its detainees is due to medical audits conducted by ICE in the last six months. He said deficiencies were noted concerning documentation on several medical records.

White said the contract between ICE and Jefferson County has not been canceled.

According to the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget, housing ICE detainees at the jail was expected to draw $2.59 million to the county’s $12 million budget.

White scheduled a special Jefferson County Board meeting to be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10 in order to address the loss of ICE detainees from the JCJC, information states.

“At Monday night’s meeting, we will be opening the FY 12-13 budget and making drastic changes as a result,” White wrote in the press release. “We will also be going through the necessary procedures to start reducing staff. This loss of revenue will require the full board’s immediate and full attention as we will begin the arduous process of reverse engineering a budget that is only a week old.”

White said he reached out to local medical providers in September to find out of they had an interest in providing the medical coverage required by the 2008 ICE standards, but “as of today” none of the options are viable.

“While we have not given up on the possibility of getting detainees in the future, we will need to address the reality of our current situation,” White wrote. “I will leave it to the Sheriff to explain why we did not have the necessary accountability in place that would have prevented this action, as I have always maintained that elected office holders should have the autonomy to run their offices as they deem fit, so long as keeping in line with the fiscal guidelines put forth by the Jefferson County Board.”

White said the fiscal decisions made Monday night will center on the assumption that the JCJC will have no “paying beds” from ICE moving forward. He said the budget will remain open for at least 60 days to accommodate any changes that occur in that time period.

“In the event we are able to secure the necessary medical coverage to correct this issue, then we can make changes in the coming months adapting to the return of increased revenue,” White wrote. “I’m in the process of reviewing the current budget to identify cuts that can be made immediately that will be voted on Monday night.”

White added that he is working with Jefferson County Board Executive Assistant Suzy Tate to identify potential areas that can be cut in order to balance the budget.

“Because of this financial distraction, we will all be putting in more time and effort to overcome a situation that should have been prevented,” White said in the press release. “The county board has for the past three years committed vast resources to this program for the benefit that was enjoyed by the entire county. It’s loss, while damaging, is not devastating. This has drastically altered our financial outlook, but I’m confident that working together we will successfully navigate this obstacle and continue to move our county forward. To the employees who will bear the brunt of this, I hope that our continued efforts will keep these actions from becoming permanent.”

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