Monday, June 23, 2008

Federal inmates pay off for Pike County (Pocono Record)

Federal inmates pay off for Pike County

By Stephen Sacco
Times Herald-Record
June 23, 2008

LORDS VALLEY, Pa. — Warden Craig Lowe of the Pike County Correctional Facility recoups roughly half of his $8 million annual budget by housing detainees for U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement.

Lowe charges the federal agency $81.50 a night per prisoner. That's close to $4 million a year for the prison's books. And the prison's space is at a premium.

"We get calls all the time asking if we have beds," Lowe said.

The facility, located about 15 miles outside Milford, also houses prisoners from other counties and the U.S. Marshals Service. It has 301 beds, enough to house county prisoners and have beds left over.

Mike Gilhooly, an immigration and customs enforcement spokesman, says the agency uses an average of 123 beds per night in Pike County. Last year, 311,000 people were detained in this country by the federal agency, but Gilhooly couldn't estimate the costs to taxpayers.

Lowe says federal detainees stay for days or for months; most are waiting for a hearing or permission to return to their country. In 2007, 729 immigration and customs detainees passed through the facility, compared with 682 in 2006 and 881 in 2005.

Other counties want to get into the act. Orange County is currently in negotiations with the feds to house detainees. Ulster County recently contracted with the U.S. Marshals Service to house prisoners for $102 a night, says Warden Ray Acevedo. Sullivan County Jail officials did not return calls for comment.

Demand for prison space has risen across the country. A report issued in February by the Pew Center — a nonpartisan research organization that tracks issues shaping the country — found one out of every 100 American adults is confined to prison. There are 2.3 million people imprisoned in the United States, the most of any country in the world.

There is an extensive inspection process that enables prisons like Pike's to house these federal detainees. The Pike facility is one of two in the nation to receive a superior rating from federal authorities, and Lowe has been named Pennsylvania's Warden of the Year.

The prison has more than 100 volunteers offering 100 programs ranging from religious education to job training. It has a recidivism rate of 10 percent to 20 percent, while the national average is 75 percent.

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