Suffolk sheriff explains decision to cancel ICE ties

‘I was hired to do local, not federal work,’ he says

SUFFOLK COUNTY Sheriff Steve Tompkins insists his decision to sever ties with Immigration and Customs Enforcement had nothing to do with protests, and everything to do whether the people in his jail’s cells are destined to remain in the state.

“I was hired to do local, not federal work. The ICE population is transient — they’re not staying here,” Tompkins said on CommonWealth’s Codcast. “But the ladies we’re going to service, they either live in my county or the Commonwealth. They’re staying here. They have kids. They have families. We want them to go back home in better shape than they arrived.”

For over 16 years, the Suffolk County sheriff’s office had a contract with ICE to place detained immigrants in beds at the South Bay House of Correction. The arrangement has stirred protests ever since President Trump came into office with his strong stance against immigrants in this country illegally. Eighteen Jewish activists were arrested at a rally this summer.

Tompkins announced two weeks ago he was ending his contract with ICE and will use the newly available space to bring in women detainees who other counties were planning to send to the state women’s prison in Framingham.

Tompkins said he feels for the families of immigrants who may have to travel farther to meet with detainees, but he said he is also concerned about women inmates facing substance abuse and mental health issues. His concern arises from personal experience, he said.  “My mother was an alcoholic. My mother suffered from depression. Her brother was a flagrant batterer and beat the heck out of his daughters, son, and wife,” he said. “I see depression every day. I see substance abuse every day.”

Tompkins said he started talking with state officials ever since he heard that “the building was falling down” at MCI-Framingham. His idea is to have some women continue to be housed in Framingham, while diverting others being sent there from Essex, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties to South Bay. MCI-Framingham, he said, was not part of the planning conversations.

The sheriff said he will figure out a way to provide funding for an increase in the female population. “Let’s see what happens with the next appropriation because at some point we’re gonna’ need more money, particularly for those ladies with substance abuse issues, for medication and mental health issues,” he said.

Tompkins says he has an annual budget of about $116 million a year, of which $110 million is provided by the state and the rest from grants and supplementary appropriations. “We don’t have enough money to do what we need to do,” he said.

Meet the Author

Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth magazine

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a bilingual journalist reporting across New England. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, social justice, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

The younger women about to enter the South Bay House of Correction may soon have access to a program similar to the PEACE unit that started for men under age 25 last November. Putting a greater emphasis on rehabilitation, the PEACE (for Positive Energy Always Creates Elevation) unit currently has 25  participants, and one former detainee is attending Dean’s College on a full scholarship. Even though recidivism numbers are not available yet for the program, Tompkins is planning to double the number of participants to 50 at the beginning of 2020.

Tompkins said he would like to launch a similar program for women between the ages of 18 and 24, although he said the program won’t be identical. “Ladies have different needs,” he said, noting that many of the women have children.