EVANSTON — The Request for Proposals (RFP) for an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility to serve the Salt Lake City area that was previously put on hold in early August appears to be moving forward again after several amendments to the RFP were posted on the fedbizopps.gov website this week.
The proposed detention center has been the subject of public discussion and controversy since May 2017, when Management and Training Corporation (MTC) representatives held a town hall meeting with area residents and officials. Earlier this year, after engaging in extended discussions with Uinta County representatives, MTC informed the Uinta County Commissioners they no longer intended to submit a proposal to construct the facility. However, a different for-profit private company, CoreCivic, almost immediately expressed interest in pursuing the project after MTC backed out.
The official RFP was posted in mid-July; however, a notice on Aug. 9 stated the proposal was being put on hold and would be republished at a later date.
On Oct. 2, an amended RFP was posted. With a length of close to 200 pages, the entire RFP is still being read by Herald staff. However, a significant change is immediately evident in that, in all discussions since it was first mentioned in 2017, the facility was to house up to 500 detainees. The new RFP is for a facility to hold up to 1,000 detainees — double what has been discussed up to this point — with a minimum of 250.
Elsewhere in the RFP, there is a description of the types of detainees that would be held at any facility, including the four security risk levels. The RFP specifically states that male detainees would be from all four levels, including level three high-risk, described as “detainees exhibit behavioral problems, or manifest a pattern of such behavior, or have a history of violent and/or criminal activity. These detainees may not be co-mingled with low custody detainees.”
According to the RFP, even level two medium high-risk detainees may “have a history of violent or assaultive charges, convictions, institutional misconduct or those with gang affiliations.”
On multiple previous occasions when MTC was pursuing the facility, public officials and MTC representatives stated the facility would house detainees whose only offense was being in the country illegally. At the initial public meeting in May 2017, MTC representative Mike Murphy said, “While they are breaking the laws of the land, they are not hardened criminals.”
In 2017, former Uinta County Clerk Lana Wilcox acknowledged any facility could potentially hold detainees facing criminal charges but said it would be for “lower-type crime stuff.”
When reached for comment about the new RFP, an email response from county commissioner Mark Anderson said, “I did notice the bed count increased… As to the definition of the detainee security levels, this was my assumption from the get go that the possibility of illegal detainees could be found to have a criminal history, etc., this changes nothing in my mind of support for the facility.” Anderson’s statement continued by stating “Also none of these individuals will be released into our community.”
Additionally, a 2018 decision by the Wyoming Attorney General found that a detention center did not meet the definition of a correctional “facility,” and therefore did not need the approval of all five statewide elected officials, including governor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and superintendent of public instruction.
However, that decision appears to be based, at least in part, on a determination that a detention center would not house inmates for criminal incarceration. Uinta County Attorney Loretta Howieson-Kallas said that situation has not changed because inmates at the facility would be held purely for immigration purposes and not criminal punitive incarceration. She said criminals “would have already been charged, convicted and punished prior to release to ICE.”
When reached for comment on the RFP changes and the timeline and process for submitting proposals, ICE Public Affairs Officer Alethea Smock responded with a statement noting, in part, “ICE has identified a need for immigration detention services within the Salt Lake City area of responsibility. The proposed services are part of ICE’s effort to continually review its detention requirements and explore options that will afford ICE the operational flexibility needed to house the full range of detainees in the agency’s custody.”
The statement further notes that, “ICE may award a contract for detention-related services sometime after a thorough review of the vendor submissions is conducted.”
Questions submitted to CoreCivic regarding the company’s plans for a Uinta County facility were not answered by press time; however, public affairs manager Brandon Bissell responded via email and said the company would issue a response addressing those questions as soon as possible.
The Herald also reached out to the other two members of the county commission, Eric South and Craig Welling, for comment but no response had been received by press time. Follow-up questions to Anderson regarding any future public meetings to discuss the project or to meet with representatives of CoreCivic, as well as the timeline moving forward, were also not answered by press time.
The Herald also reached out to representatives of WyoSayNo, the statewide group formed to fight the proposal, for comment, but no response was received by press time.
All three commissioners, Howieson-Kallas, Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson and other local officials visited a CoreCivic facility in California in August. Questions to Anderson about that visit were also not answered by press time; however, Wyoming Public Media reported on Aug. 27 that Anderson said, “We heard laughter, we saw a lot of smiles on [the detainees’] faces. There was a group of girls — when I say girls, they were all over 18 — some that were braiding each other’s hair.”
The government website states the submission deadline for “Volume 1 Environmental Proposal” is noon PT on Friday, Nov. 29.