March 23, 2013
Christina Kauffman

The number of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees at York County Prison is on the rise, quelling the fears of county officials who worried the sequester would crunch the county budget.

As the sequester deadline approached last month, officials said the detainee population had fallen to 630, down from about 750 in January, because federal agencies were moving some low-risk prisoners to less secure, less expensive facilities.

Commissioners were concerned about the potential impact on the county's budget, as York County charges ICE $83 per day per prisoner, or about $24 million per year. Last month's decrease cost the county $18,260 per day in lost revenue.

But Warden Mary Sabol said at a prison board meeting Tuesday that the population is rebounding.

After reaching a low of 560 last week, three flights of prisoners came to York from San Antonio and pushed the number of detainees to 746.

She was expecting another 96 prisoners to arrive Tuesday, taking the number to 842.

The county's target population, the level at which the prison will run most efficiently, is about 850, said Vice President Commissioner Doug Hoke, who's also president of the prison board.

The target: He attributed to the rebound to talks Sabol has been having with federal sources.

"We knew that this was going to be a problem with sequestration," he said. "They'd be reducing prisoners to protect their budget, but we've been in constant communication with (federal) make sure they're filling our beds."

The years-long relationship between the county and ICE seems to have been a benefit, he said.

"We're obviously heading up to our target of 850," he said. "I think it's positive, what we've heard this morning."

Sabol said her ICE source has told her the number of prisoners in York County should be stabilizing, post-sequester.

President Commissioner Steve Chronister said county officials notified its U.S. senators and representative about its quandary last month, and also reminded federal officials that York County Prison is a bargain compared to facilities that charge more than $100 per day per prisoner.

"I think if our federal government truly wants to save money, they should be giving us as many as we take," he said.

York County Prison is also unique in that there's an in-house courtroom with judges for immigration hearings.

More room: Renovations are under way to make room for more female detainees in York, as ICE has stated there's a need for female rooms, Hoke said.

Female work release prisoners were recently transferred to the county's new work release facility, freeing space in the main prison. Security features in that lower-security area are being enhanced so federal prisoners can be held there, Sabol said.

She said work should be done on the space and it should be ready for occupancy by April 1.

York County officials relieved as detainee numbers rise at prison - York Dispatch