Franklin County closes ICE detention center

  • The Franklin County Jail and House of Correction in Greenfield has shut down its immigration detention center, saying it doesn’t make financial sense to keep it open because the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency does not send enough detainees. STAFF FILE PHOTO/ANDY CASTILLO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/3/2021 4:48:49 PM

GREENFIELD — The Franklin County Jail and House of Correction has closed its immigration detention center, saying the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency has not maintained the threshold agreed upon to financially justify keeping it open.

Sheriff Christopher Donelan said he leased to ICE one of his four 80-bed facilities, but the average number of immigrant detainees has dropped from 65 to roughly 20 in the past few years. Historically, the number had been 70 to 75 at any one time. The nine detainees remaining when the facility shut down a couple of weeks ago were taken to the Plymouth County Correctional Facility about 135 miles away.

Donelan explained the decision was a financially driven one, not a political one.

“We had an entire housing unit committed to this,” he said, elaborating that this entails food, security and medical services. “Over the course of time, those numbers (of detainees) were continually dwindling.”

The sheriff said he and officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ICE Boston Field Office in Burlington agreed to a minimum of 30 immigration detainees to keep the facility open.

“And they never kept that threshold,” Donelan said.

He said his jail had an eight- or nine-year contract with ICE that required at least 30 days’ notice if the decision was made to close the facility. Donelan said he called one morning late last month and an ICE van was in Greenfield to retrieve the detainees that afternoon. He said the detainees, most of whom are from Latin America, have cases active in court.

Donelan said there are various factors that drove down the number of immigration detainees in Greenfield. He speculates one reason is that the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, a private, for-profit correctional facility in Central Falls, R.I., was pushing during the Trump administration for more detainees to be sent there. A request for comment from the facility was not returned by press time.

Donelan said the closure means there is one fewer responsibility for his department.

“This allows us to focus on our county population and our treatment program, and that’s a good thing for us,” he said, adding the house of correction had 119 inmates as of Monday.

Mario Paredes, a staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services in collaboration with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and someone who has who worked with Franklin County detainees, said he is pleased to hear another Massachusetts county has ended its contract with ICE, though there was a frustrating lack of communication and transparency.

“No attorney that I have spoken to was aware this was going to happen at all,” he said. “Right now, I think there are a lot of questions up in the air.”

Paredes said video visitations with family members are not available to detainees in Plymouth as they were in Greenfield, and in-person visits are still not allowed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said detainees’ medication and property can get lost in transit, and he is concerned this may have happened.

Paredes also worries the ICE detention center in Greenfield will reopen when the pandemic ends and more immigration detainees are brought in. He said the organizations he works for aim to ensure all ICE facilities comply with regulations.

There are now two active ICE detention centers in Massachusetts — in Plymouth and Bristol counties.

An email request for comment from the ICE Boston Field Office was not returned before press time.

Reach Domenic Poli at: or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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