The headline on an earlier version of this article misstated the location of a jail where the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has halted detentions. The Piedmont Regional Jail is in Prince Edward County, not Prince William County.
ICE Halts Detentions at Va. Facility After Death
Friday, February 20, 2009
The November death of a Prince William County man in immigration custody at Piedmont Regional Jail has prompted Immigration and Customs Enforcement to suspend placing detainees at the facility, three hours south of the District near Farmville, Va.
In recent years, the rural county jail has contracted with ICE at rock-bottom rates to become a principal storehouse for non-citizen detainees from Northern Virginia and the District awaiting deportation. But since the Nov. 28 death of detainee Guido Newbrough, ICE has launched an investigation into medical care at the facility, and its detainee population has fallen from 330 to 53 as of Wednesday. The jail laid off 50 of its 135 employees this week.
"There is no effort underway to cease utilizing Piedmont. However, we have stopped housing detainees at Piedmont while we continue to monitor current conditions at the facility," said Cori Bassett, an ICE spokeswoman.
The suspension comes at a particularly sensitive time for Piedmont and the town of Farmville, which has 7,000 residents. Piedmont had been earning $46.25 a day for each of the ICE detainees it housed in dormitory-style cells with triple bunk beds. Business was so robust that a group of investors announced a deal with Farmville officials last year to build a $21 million, 1,000-bed, privately run immigration detention facility there, pledging to convert the job-starved town into a hub for ICE operations in the mid-Atlantic.
But on the day after Thanksgiving, Newbrough died at a Richmond hospital, the second Piedmont detainee death in less than two years. Autopsy reports finished last month showed that Newbrough, 48, who came to Virginia from Germany at age 6, suffered from massive organ failure brought on by an untreated bacterial infection. His family and fellow detainees alleged that Newbrough's requests for medical care were ignored and that he had been placed in an isolation cell despite his illness.
Piedmont officials dispute those claims, and ICE has refused to say when its investigation will be complete or if those findings will be made public.
Farmville officials have sought to distance their project, which is several months behind schedule, from recent events at Piedmont.
If the new facility is completed, plans call for ICE to contract with the town of Farmville, which will in turn contract with ICA-Farmville, the investor group that is preparing to build and operate the private jail. It promises to bring hundreds of jobs to the area, offsetting the steady erosion of the town's industrial base.
Piedmont Superintendent Ernest Toney stressed that his facility and the new jail are separate entities and don't deserve to be lumped together. "There is no tie between us and ICA," he said.
But at least two Farmville town council members are top officials at Piedmont: Donald Hunter, the assistant superintendent, and Edward Gordon, the jail's medical director.
Gordon declined to discuss the layoffs, saying he wasn't aware of the jail's finances. But other Farmville officials acknowledge that the cuts are a tough blow at a bad time.
"It's a tremendous loss anytime you lose that many jobs," said Town Manager Gerald Spates, emphasizing that the town is not involved in the jail's operations.