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Group: County lacks ICE data

November 15, 2018

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County’s sheriff has provided no information on how much his department spends per ICE detainee at the county jail, even though he maintains the jail’s federal contract helps balance the county’s budget, a local group says.

On Tuesday, opponents of the county’s policy of housing ICE detainees at the Jerome Combs Detention Center met at a downtown Kankakee church to discuss the situation.

The two dozen participants included members of local and Chicago-area churches as well as members of Connect Kankakee, which is leading the local opposition.

“The sheriff likes to boast about how much (federal) revenue the jail gets. But they have no idea how much they spend on each detainee,” Connect member Dave Volden said at the meeting at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Other members said the county lumps all the out-of-county jail revenue together, with no ledger that separates ICE detainees.

In a later interview, Sheriff Mike Downey confirmed the county combines all the out-of-county revenue in its budget, making no distinctions.

Downey has said the county makes $4.4 million in extra income per year because of its contracts with ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service, which houses federal inmates. The sheriff is careful not to call that money a profit, noting it is used for other government purposes.

The sheriff has told county board members during recent meetings that he and Connect were trying to arrange a tour of the Jerome Combs jail. The tour recently took place, with Downey saying he didn’t want media there so that he and the group could speak freely.

Volden reported on the tour at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The conditions appear to be good for inmates and the people being detained,” said Volden, who also is a freelance photographer for the Daily Journal. But he said it was important to remember that inmates had no direct, physical contact with family. That is the case for all people housed in the jail.

Volden also contended the detainees lacked sunlight, but the sheriff later said the housing units in the jail have indirect sunlight from skylights, as the state requires.

At the meeting, Volden and other Connect members argued the county shouldn’t balance its books on the backs of immigrants who are being detained for minor infractions and put on the road to deportation. The detainees have been in the United States for an average of 10 years, Volden said.

Nearly all of the ICE detainees come from elsewhere, with few hailing from Kankakee County, Volden said.

Downey said Connect and its allies portray the ICE detainees in the local jail as people picked up on the street for being in the country illegally. In reality, he said, most of them have criminal backgrounds. Downey, who was away for training Tuesday, did not have exact numbers.

“(Connect’s) fight should be with Washington, not Kankakee County,” Downey said.

Despite his differences with Connect, the sheriff described the tour as “very nice and respectful.”

The 13-year-old Jerome Combs jail has 32,000 square feet of undeveloped space that still could house more inmates. The sheriff has said he would like the federal government to help pay for finishing that part of the jail.

Members of Connect oppose an expansion.

“We know of no formal initiative to expand. We know the sheriff wishes to do so,” Volden said at the meeting.

According to the sheriff’s numbers, the jail has been housing more than 150 ICE detainees on average per day, up from about 100 in March 2017.

When the participants in Tuesday’s meeting started discussing strategy, they asked a Daily Journal reporter to leave.

The Sheriff’s Department entered an agreement with ICE to house detainees in fall 2016, when Barack Obama was still president.

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