New Jersey officials signed an agreement Monday to operate one of the newest immigrant detention centers in the nation, a facility that may eventually more than double the number of immigrant detainees housed in the state.
Officials at the Essex County Executive's office have signed a service agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to expand the number of beds for immigration detainees from 500 to up to 1,250 during an initial phase, and as many as 2,750 during the life of the five-year agreement.
Eight hundred detainees would be held at the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, and 450 beds would be at a nearby privately run facility.
Federal immigration authorities will pay the county a daily per-bed rate of $108, according to Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. The county's recurring revenue from immigration detainees and other federal inmates will increase from $8.6 million in 2008 — the first year it began housing immigration detainees — to up to $250 million anticipated over the life of the agreement, according to DiVincenzo.
"While the incarceration of people is never pleasant, it does provide us with an opportunity to bring in much-needed revenue to help balance our budget," DiVincenzo said.
The agreement must still be approved by the county's Board of Freeholders.
County Spokesman Anthony Puglisi said late Monday they had canceled a proposed new contract with Education and Health Centers of America Inc. to house the detainees at Delaney Hall, which is home to a residential prisoner re-entry program near the Essex correctional facility. Some of the immigrant detainees will still be housed at Delaney, but it will instead be done under an existing contract between EHCA and the county, which leases 1,500 beds at Delaney. The bidding process will be re-evaluated in December when that contract expires, Puglisi said.
The move comes after questions were raised by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg and immigration advocacy groups as to why EHCA, a nonprofit which subcontracts to the for-profit Community Education Centers Inc., had been the sole bidder for the immigration detention contract.
Two executives of the company are high-level allies of Gov. Chris Christie: businessman and political donor John Clancy, who runs both entities, and William Palatucci, a senior vice president and general counsel for public affairs at CEC, who is Christie's former law partner, close adviser and friend.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak has said the governor has had no involvement in the detention center negotiations and to suggest otherwise was "a stretch."
A spokesman for Community Education Centers referred all comments on the contract to ICE and Essex County officials.
New Jersey has 1,639 beds for immigrant detainees in five facilities around the state, according to ICE. In addition to Essex, they are housed at a privately run detention center in Elizabeth and correctional facilities in Monmouth, Hudson and Bergen counties.
ICE had been looking to locate a new detention facility near the New York metropolitan area, and took bids from officials in Pennsylvania's Pike and York counties before entering into negotiations with Essex County in 2010.
Immigrants from New Jersey are sometimes sent to facilities in other parts of the country because of a lack of bed space in the Northeast. DiVincenzo said Monday the new facility would make it easier for them to have access to legal counsel and family visits.
Advocacy groups have criticized ICE for what they say is a spotty immigrant detention track record in which reports of detainee abuse, mixing civil immigration detainees with criminal inmate populations and denying health services or access to legal help have been documented in New Jersey and elsewhere in the country.