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Tompkins ends contract to house ICE detainees

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Tompkins ends contract to house ICE detainees
Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins says he’s increasing services for female inmates. BANNER FILE PHOTO

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins announced last Tuesday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees would no longer be held at the Suffolk County House of Correction in South Bay. By Friday of last week, the 200 detainees had boarded buses and vans to be taken to other facilities.

While the presence of the detainees often drew protests from immigration activists, Tompkins says the move was not political. He said the purpose was to make space to house women inmates from around the state who can benefit from gender-specific services aimed at rehabilitation.

“I was hired by the residents of Suffolk County,” Tompkins told the Banner. “When you have women who are struggling with domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual exploitation and homelessness, we have to work with them.”

Tompkins said his office has instituted a program called Community Reentry for Women (CREW) in the Suffolk County House of Correction that has had success in helping reduce recidivism among female prisoners. Based on the success of that program, Tompkins agreed to take female prisoners from jails in Essex, Norfolk and Plymouth counties.

The goal of the CREW program is to get the women ready to obtain jobs after release, Tomkins said. The women are given job training, interview tips and help building their resumes. They’re also given access to help with the issues such as addiction and trauma that helped land them behind bars.

“We’re putting them in touch with social service agencies so they have a continuum of care,” Tompkins said.

Women are the fastest-growing demographic in jails and prisons across the country. Tompkins said he and other Massachusetts sheriffs have been exploring taking a regional approach to administering jails — exploring pooling their resources for purchasing goods and services as a way to reduce costs. Because Suffolk County has taken a lead in providing services to women, Tompkins said, it makes sense for South Bay to take in women from other counties who are not receiving gender-specific services.

“We take pride in the services that we have been able to provide to ICE detainees,” Tompkins said in a statement sent to news media. “But we are elated about this new opportunity to expand our services across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to reach more women with our dedicated programming so that we can begin to work on their recovery, address some of the issues that first led them into the system, and return them to society better able to care for themselves and their families.”

While there were 65 women incarcerated in the South Bay House of Correction, Tompkins said that number will likely rise to 200, as more women from other counties are brought in. The removal of the ICE detainees will make it possible to house them.

“We want to offer services to women who are returning to the community,” Tompkins said. “We want to focus on the local population.”

A spokesperson for the federal Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement told reporters that the detainees formerly housed at the South Bay facility have been relocated to facilities in Bristol County, Franklin County and Plymouth County, as well as in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

The assignment of the ICE detainees is up to federal officials, Tompkins noted.

“People think we have the ability to relocate ICE detainees,” he said. “We don’t.”

Meanwhile, Tompkins said, the South Bay facility will receive women in pretrial status as well as those serving sentences from Essex, Norfolk and Plymouth county jails.

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