Essex County Immigration Detention Expansion, an Invitation for Abuse
Background: In early August, Essex County Executive, Joe DiVincenzo, entered into a new Inter-Governmental Services Agreement (IGSA) with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to increase the number of ICE detainees held in Essex County from 500 to 1,250. Until the new agreement, New Jersey had experienced a continued increase in the number of immigration detention having reached the previous all time high of approximately 1,600 beds in February, 2010. The Essex County Correctional Facility immediately added 300 additional beds, and the privately-run Delaney Hall opened to 68 women and 382 men opened in October. The total number of detention beds in New Jersey is now around 2,350.
The history of immigration detention in New Jersey includes a myriad of cases of abuse, including a number of shocking deaths, a culture of secrecy and lack of transparency. Up until this fall, New Jersey had only one privately-run facility for immigrant detainees, the Elizabeth Detention Center, the Elizabeth Detention Center, which originally owned and run by a company known, at that time, as Esmore, now Correctional Services Corporation (CSC). The facility changed hands back in 1994 after riots over poor conditions forced it to close temporarily. It is now run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). It was the death of a Guinean tailor, Boubacar Bah, while in CCA’s custody at Elizabeth that spurred a series of articles by the New York Times and raised the issue of substandard medical care and neglect in immigration detention to the national level.
The Essex County Freeholders voted on December 14, 2011 to accept a bid from Education and Health Centers of America (EHCA), the non-profit affiliate of Community Educations Centers (CEC). CEC has been skirting both pay to pay regulation and campaign donation disclosure requirements through a shell game where EHCA holds the contract but CEC runs the facilities and nets the lion’s share of the profits. In New Jersey, pay to play, whereby an individual, business, or organization makes campaign contributions to political parties, or parties themselves, and receives government contracts in exchange, has been, and continues to be, a major political issue.
The following sections will address issues which contributed to the lack of competitiveness in the contracting process, and the loophole in New Jersey’s “pay to play” that allows the county to accept EHCA’s bid. Preventable deaths have occurred in Delaney Hall and other CEC facilities around the country. The County’s claims of how much it will profit are suspect, and should anticipate additional costs.