Crime - Sacto 911

Yolo County considers scrapping contract with feds to lock up undocumented teens

President Donald Trump points to the crowd after speaking to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, Friday, July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, N.Y.
President Donald Trump points to the crowd after speaking to law enforcement officials on the street gang MS-13, Friday, July 28, 2017, in Brentwood, N.Y. AP

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors is considering canceling its contract with federal authorities to detain two dozen immigrant teens in its high-security facility following disclosures last year that some youths there were improperly labeled as gang members.

Brent Cardall, chief probation officer for the county, recommends Yolo end its three-year, nearly $9 million contract with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, the federal agency given custody of unaccompanied children in the United States without documentation.

The cancellation would mean laying off 17 employees, a staff report said. The Board of Supervisors will vote on the cancellation on April 3, after continuing the item from a previous meeting.

Yolo County runs one of three high-security juvenile immigration detention centers in the United States, contracting to keep up to 24 youths in restrictive settings for federal immigration authorities while the government pursues legal action against them. Cardall said in a previous interview with The Bee that the government must have proof that these young people present a risk to themselves or the community or have a significant criminal background to qualify for placement in Yolo County.

The facility also serves as the juvenile detention center for Yolo County. As of March 20, the facility housed 22 ORR youths and 11 Yolo County youths, according to county spokeswoman Beth Gabor.

A staff report said the facility would continue to operate 15 beds for Yolo County youths if the contract is canceled.

If the Board of Supervisors decides to end the contract, the county and ORR will settle on an end date and work with each detainee to figure out the next steps, such as moving to a less-secure facility, reunification with family members or sponsors in the United States, or repatriation back to their home countries, Gabor said in an email. The federal agency will have to expand the bed capacity at an existing facility or open another secure program, she said.

The other facilities that provide high-security detention of unaccompanied minors are both in Virginia. One, the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Center, was recently sued for allegedly keeping youths in "inhumane" conditions.

The county renewed the federal contract in 2017 and just entered the second year of the new contract. Overall, the county has worked with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement for 10 years.

Problems with the teens sent to Yolo publicly emerged when Cardall spoke to The Sacramento Bee last August, detailing concerns that the federal government had sent at least seven undocumented teenagers from their homes in New York whose alleged gang ties could not be confirmed by Yolo.

Cardell pushed for their release to less restrictive facilities as a result. All seven were moved by the refugee agency to less restrictive placements outside California while they await immigration proceedings, Cardall told The Bee last fall.

The ACLU took the federal government to court last June to seek an injunction stopping the government from using unsubstantiated gang allegations to put unaccompanied immigrant kids in high-security detention, naming Cardall in the action. The court granted the injunction, but the federal government has appealed the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

During a tour of the facility by The Bee last fall, undocumented teens were seen in restrictive concrete cells with only a small window into a main room. The undocumented youths were accused by immigration authorities of being part of MS-13, a violent gang targeted by President Donald Trump.

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor said he has become concerned in recent years that the kids in Yolo's custody have not received fair hearings before being sent there.

"We're committed to having due process deployed for anyone who is housed in our facilities," he said.

Saylor said he is meeting with community members who volunteer in the youth detention facility to get their thoughts on the best way to proceed. About 100 Yolo County residents volunteer as mentors and tutors at the juvenile hall.

In a staff report, Cardall laid out other concerns about the youths sent to the facility from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. County probation data shows that ORR youth are more difficult to manage than Yolo County youth because of the "significant trauma, community violence and marginalization before they come here."

"Over the 2016 and 2017 years, our data has shown that ORR youth are three times more likely to assault staff than non-ORR youth," the staff report said.

In 2016, there were 14 assaults on staff by ORR youths and 10 by non-ORR youths, Gabor said. In 2017, the number of ORR youth assaults rose to 26, while Yolo County youths committed none, she said.

Cardall is requesting about $534,000 this year to fund 15 beds for Yolo County youths. In a staff report, he said local or grant resources would be needed going forward to fill the funding gap left by returning the ORR money

Saylor said the money isn't much of a factor in his discussions with staff and constituents. He is interested in potentially helping the staff who would be laid off find other employment with the county.

"If this was a dollars and cents issue, that would be one thing," Saylor said. "The chief is concerned about the safety of kids within our juvenile hall and with our ability to program for the needs of the juvenile hall population."

Supervisor Matt Rexroad said he has been a supporter of the contract for a long time, as the additional financial resources have made it possible to provide more programming for all of the youths housed in the facility.

"But it's becoming more taxing on our employees. It's just not worth it," Rexroad said.

"Before, it was taking care of about half of the overhead, but some of these cases have been incredibly difficult and incredibly expensive for the county," Rexroad said. "In a perfect world, I think Yolo county can provide better services to these kids than pretty much anywhere else," but the program is starting to negatively impact the Yolo County youths in the hall.

Ellen Garrison: 916-321-1920, @EllenGarrison

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