Media gets rare tour of Etowah immigration facility

Media gets rare tour of Etowah immigration facility

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Media had a rare opportunity to tour the Etowah County immigration facility Tuesday. Source: WBRC video Media had a rare opportunity to tour the Etowah County immigration facility Tuesday. Source: WBRC video

Officials with the Department of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement say they stand by the care given to detainees at the Etowah Detention Center.

This statement came after the group Detention Watch Network listed the immigration facility in Etowah County among the ten worst of its kind in the nation. The group alleged issues with food, medical care and overcrowding.

Reporters visited three population areas on the county jail's two top floors, which were built just for the ICE detainees. ICE has a contract to house the detainees in the facility for $40 a day, per inmate.

ICE and Etowah County Jail officials also gave tours of the jail's kitchen and medical facility. The medical facility has nurses and a doctor, and the jail itself is located just a few miles from Riverview Regional Medical Center. The jail makes 300 meals a day for its entire population, including some 70 special meals for religious and medical reasons.

"The last time this jail was inspected, they had no deficiencies, out of any of the required areas. So I think that speaks very well to the effort that the sheriff and his staff are doing," says Philip Miller, director of the New Orleans office of ICE.

ICE officials say their July inspection was so thorough, they even took the temperature of the food three times: once in the kitchen, once in transit and once after being delivered to a detainee. The entire inspection is pass/fail and the jail passed all three of the food temperature tests.

ICE previously housed short-term detainees for its Atlanta office. But the Atlanta office discontinued its use of the Etowah County jail, after finding a closer facility that saved on transportation costs. The New Orleans center then began using it to house long term detainees.

Miller told reporters those detainees include people being deported to their home countries, who are either fighting the deportation or otherwise refusing to cooperate.

Detainees are also given the options of taking part in several programs, including aquaculture, dog training and computer skills.

The jail follows the national standards set up by ICE and is upgrading to follow upgraded standards. That includes an outdoor recreation area, and the possibilities of in-person and even internet visitation for the detainees.

The detainees have a different set of standards, jail officials say, because unlike the county-state jail inmates, the detainees are not necessarily being punished for a crime, but instead are awaiting civil matters in immigration court.

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