Tompkins: Local needs— not politics—drove decision to end ICE contract

Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins

Suffolk County Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins is defending his decision to terminate the county’s contract to house prisoners detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The move comes as Tompkins announced plans to “reallocate” space the Suffolk County House of Correction to house and care for more women prisoners.

Beginning this week, as part of a new agreement with other county sheriffs’ offices, Suffolk County will begin receiving pre-trial and sentenced women from Plymouth, Essex, and Norfolk counties. Tompkins said that Suffolk County currently houses somewhere between 65 and 80 women, and expects that roughly 200 to 250 more will be brought in.

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins talked to the Reporter on Friday about the decision.

“We decided that we want to work with the ladies in Suffolk County that are suffering from domestic violence, sexual exploitation, substance abuse, homelessness and mental health issues,” Tompkins said.

This arrangement, he said, was reached in an effort to achieve greater regionalization and delivery of critical services for what has become the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the country. Several recent reports have revealed that, despite an overall decline in prison populations across the United States, the number of women incarcerated or involved in the criminal justice system has continued to rise.

“People have asked me if this is a political move, and it is not,” Tompkins said. “This is not a move about ICE or anything that’s happening with Trump or immigration, it’s about saving lives. It has more to do with methadone mile, what’s going on with homelessness, and the lack of beds and mental health services.”

“I was voted in by the residents of Suffolk County, and I want to do the job as best I can and work with people that are staying here. The detainee population is transient-- they’re going to be moved somewhere else. If I have to choose between the federal side and the local municipal side, I’ve chosen the local side,” Tompkins added.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement that it stands uniquely positioned to care for this demographic with its specialized, gender-sensitive programming, including the CREW Program (Community Re-Entry for Women), which has been recognized nationally for its work.
Women arriving to the House of Correction will be immediately classified and enrolled into Women’s Program Services, which will allow them to partake in these essential services, but will necessitate the diversion of resources to accommodate this increased focus.

Women’s Program Services delivers gender-specific and individualized reintegration programming to women who have been remanded to the Suffolk County House of Correction. Every woman is enrolled in a three-phase program model that helps address the psychological and educational barriers that have hindered their success in order to better prepare them for reentry.

“We take pride in the services that we have been able to provide to ICE detainees,” Sheriff Tompkins wrote in a statement, “but we are elated about this new opportunity to expand our services across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to reach more women with our dedicated programming so that we can begin to work on their recovery, address some of the issues that first led them into the system, and return them to society better able to care for themselves and their families.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which first signed its contract with the Department in 2003, will be completing its relocation of detainees from the House of Correction by mid-December.

Tompkins told the Reporter that ICE detainees will likely be moved to other facilities within Massachusetts.

“I would think that some of the detainees will be moved to one of the three other facilities in the Commonwealth-- Bristol, Plymouth and Springfield. Some may go to upstate New York and some may go to the [federal] facilities in Rhode Island. Beyond that I don’t know exactly where they are going to go.”

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