US Customs and Immigration No Longer Use Alabama Prisons

Federal immigration authorities announced Friday that they will no longer send detainees to Alabama’s long-troubled prison and will limit the use of the other three detention centers.

The decision reinforces Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ commitment to review detention facilities to determine whether they are humane, meet applicable standards and use funds responsibly, according to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) press release.

ICE said it will stop using the Etowah County Jail in Gadsden, Alabama, as soon as possible, taking into account the requirement of 30 days prior notice. The prison has a “long history of serious shortages,” the announcement said.

Activists, who have long sought to end ICE’s detention in the county’s Etowah Prison, welcomed the news as a victory, but they urged federal authorities not to simply move people from one facility to another.

Senator Bernie Sanders, touches the bars of a Birmingham, Alabama prison.  (Photo: AP/Brynn Anderson)

Senator Bernie Sanders, touches the bars of a Birmingham, Alabama prison. (Photo: AP/Brynn Anderson)

“The county’s Etowah Detention Center is an example of what is not right with immigration detention and why the detention system should be abolished,” Detention Watch Network advocacy director Setareh Ghandehari said in a press statement. “Governments can and should do more to completely eliminate the use of immigration detention by continuing to terminate contracts, close additional facilities and release people from prison.”

Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton told The Gadsden Times that the decision to stop sending prisoners to prison was “just a huge shock,” and he and members of the Alabama congressional delegation wanted more information.

He said it was only this week that the center was notified that 135 detainees would come next week.

“Nobody canceled the notice,” Horton said.

ICE said it would limit use of the Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida; Winn Correctional Center in Winnfield, Louisiana; and the Alamance County Detention Facility in Graham, North Carolina.

ICE has reduced use of Glades County facilities in recent years, in part because of “existing and continuing concerns regarding the provision of inmate medical care.” But ICE still pays for the minimum number of beds and has now decided not to extend the terms of that minimum bed guarantee. [my/pp]