16 months after ICE prison contract ended, York County gives feds a deadline

Matt Enright
York Dispatch
York County Prison in Springettsbury Township Monday, August, 24, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Since the 1990s, the York County Prison has contracted with the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house detainees, generating millions of dollars in revenue for the county.

Last year alone, the county received $18.4 million from the bed-day rate for ICE detainees, with the caveat that much of that goes into costs and upkeep. 

Now, that contract may be in jeopardy.

The prison board voted 6-0 at its last meeting, April 13, to trigger a 120-day clause in the ICE contract, after which York County could walk away if it doesn't reach a deal with the federal government. 

“It normally was from three to five years, and every several years we renegotiated with the federal government about the per-day fee that they paid us to actually hold ICE detainees from the federal government,” Doug Hoke, a county commissioner and president of the county prison board, said in an interview Wednesday about the contract.

York County Prison is one of 134 facilities around the country that ICE contracts with, according to ICE's website. The prison currently houses approximately 400 detainees, according to an ICE spokesperson. The bed-day rate for detainees is currently $108, meaning the county is paid $108 a day per detainee.

The county's intergovernmental service agreement expired at the end of 2019, county spokesperson Mark Walters said. An extension was approved in December 2019 to allow continued negotiations for an agreement with an updated bed-day rate and other detention standards.

"We're essentially waiting for ICE to come back with a new offer by the end of the 120 days," Walters said.

So far, negotiations have not resulted in a new contract.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of ICE detainees has dropped — from a high of about 800 to about 250 on some days — while caring for the detainees became more complicated.

"When COVID came around, we had to quarantine prisoners, transport wasn’t taking place, we had socially distanced people,” Hoke said.

With the COVID-19 complications, the federal government had agreed to pay York County for a minimum of 500 detainees a day, Hoke said. That has recently been revised downward, which Hoke said is one of the issues.

“We have our 2021 budget, which is predicated on the fact that we get a revenue stream for at least 500 detainees per day. That’s going to drop,” he said. “So the prison board said, ‘We’re not going to be able to operate if we’re not going to have a revenue stream that at least pays the bills for York County to house these detainees.’”

Hoke said the county would continue to negotiate, and the full prison board would make the final decision.

“It will obviously come down to whatever the federal government comes down to. I am open to any scenario that makes sense for the taxpayers of York County,” he said. “I’m willing to sit down and negotiate with them, but obviously we’re going to have to look out for our best interests.”

"We've had a great working relationship with ICE for quite some time," interim warden Adam Ogle said Thursday.

"It wasn't something that made sense for us," President Commissioner Julie Wheeler said of the terms that ICE had proposed. "We are optimistic that we might work something out, but at the end of the day we had to look at what ICE was asking of us and what we are able to deliver on our end." 

Wheeler said York County has had a good professional relationship with ICE.

"In our mind, it's nothing to do with ICE mistreating the county or anything like that; it's always been above board. We've always enjoyed a good relationship with them," she said. "What it comes down to is what they were asking us and what we'd be able to deliver, and it just didn't work for us." 

An ICE spokesperson confirmed that negotiations with the county are ongoing.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring that all those in our custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement,” an ICE spokesperson said Wednesday through email. “The contract for York County Prison is currently under negotiations for renewal.”