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Howard detention center policy to accept only ICE detainees convicted of violent crimes is effective immediately

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said Thursday that the county’s updated policy to only hold U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees convicted of a violent crime at the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup would be effective immediately.

The announcement comes less than a week after Ball hosted a news conference announcing the policy change without an implementation date. It also follows months of pressure from local activists at multiple protests hosted across the county.

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On Friday, Ball said he would wait until a bill to completely end the contract with ICE in Howard County went through the County Council’s legislative process before enacting his policy change.

The Howard County Times reached out to Ball with questions surrounding Thursday’s announcement, and county spokesperson Scott Peterson responded.

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“The county executive and [Howard County Department of Corrections] Director [Jack] Kavanagh discussed with ICE the finalized policy changes [Wednesday] night and waited until that conversation was held before announcing the policy was effective,” Peterson wrote in an email. “Now that ICE has been updated, we were able to immediately make [the changes] effective, regardless of the outcome of pending council legislation.”

The bill, CB-51, was introduced by County Council Vice Chair Liz Walsh to completely stop the Howard County Department of Corrections from accepting individuals detained by federal immigration law enforcement agencies.

Despite Ball’s announcements about the updated policy, Walsh said Thursday she would not be withdrawing her legislation.

“[The policy update] is good news, but it doesn’t change the course of CB-51 for me,” Walsh said.

Peterson also said the public was notified of the policy change through a county news release, social media and the updated criteria on the Howard County Detention Center section of the county’s website. As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, there have been no social media posts with the county’s new policy and the criteria on the Howard County Detention Center section of the county’s website has not been updated.

The county’s announcement last week came after a policy clarification was agreed upon with CASA, an advocacy group for Latino and immigrant people in Maryland. Ball said he had been discussing policy changes with CASA for the last year about the county’s ICE contract.

The updated policy follows the Maryland Criminal Code section 14-101′s definition of a “crime of violence,” such as murder, rape, manslaughter, robbery, and serious assaults and sexual offenses.

“It’s great to see the updated policy by our county executive, fueled by data and perspective from a reputable advocacy organization that serves as a champion for the immigrant community,” County Council member Opel Jones said Thursday.

County Council members Deb Jung, David Yungmann and Christiana Mercer Rigby could not be reached for comment.

CASA, the Council on American-Islamic Relations office in Maryland and the Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network have all endorsed Ball’s proposal.

At a County Council legislative public hearing Monday, more than 30 individuals and organizations testified on CB-51. The contract with ICE was discussed once more at a County Council work session Wednesday with Jack Kavanagh, director of the Howard County Department of Corrections.

According to Kavanagh, 10% of the ICE detainees in the detention center are from Howard County; the vast majority are from Prince George’s County, Baltimore County and Montgomery County, he said Wednesday. Kavanagh also said about 10% were out-of-state detainees.

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The average length of stay for an ICE detainee in Jessup is about 95 days, according to Kavanagh.

“When they leave, the vast majority are deported,” Kavanagh said Wednesday.

Howard County’s contract with ICE, which has existed since 1995, allows immigration detainees to be held in the Howard County Detention Center. The center does not hold women or child ICE detainees.

The county’s previous policy was to detain undocumented immigrants convicted of crimes, validated gang members, deported felons who have illegally made their way back to the United States and people charged with jailable offenses.

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