Immigration officials pull 600 detainees from N.M. jail because of safety concerns

2007-09-13T00:00:00Z Immigration officials pull 600 detainees from N.M. jail because of safety concerns Arizona Daily Star
September 13, 2007 12:00 am

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Federal authorities say they have pulled 600 detainees from a jail under contract with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, citing concerns about the safety and health of inmates.

Cornell Companies Inc., which operates the Regional Corrections Center in downtown Albuquerque, was told of the problems in meetings and telephone calls since late June, said Gary Mead, ICE assistant director for detention and removal operations.

"We took our people out of the RCC facility because we are skeptical about Cornell's ability to run the facility in a way that maintains the safety, health and well-being of our detainees," said Mead, who refused to give specifics because most of the incidents are still being reviewed.

He did say that the problems "go far beyond" the lockup's failure to meet a couple of detention standards and that Cornell has made some improvements. The detainees were removed last month.

The federal agency has not set a deadline for deciding whether to cancel its contract with Cornell, he said.

Charles Seigel, a spokesman for Cornell, said that the company believes it has taken care of the problems and that "we don't know what we can do to address those specific concerns that we haven't addressed already."

"We want to do what we can to address any concerns they still have, other than generalities about what happened in the past," Seigel said.

Cornell's improvements include cleaning and painting the center, writing a handbook for detainees that explains operations and policies, and improving telephone services and procedures for dealing with detainees' property, Mead said.

The center can house as many as 700 ICE detainees. Cornell cut 82 of the 185 jobs at the jail Monday because of the detainees' removal by ICE, its largest client.

Some of the detainees have been deported, and the rest are housed in other centers under the jurisdiction of ICE's field office in El Paso, Texas, Mead said. The detainees include both men and women, people with criminal records, and those simply picked up for being in the United States illegally.

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