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Peaceful protestors gather nationwide to voice their opposition to President Donald Trump’s child separation, deportation, and detention policies. In Tulsa demonstrators convened at the steps of David L. Moss Criminal Justice System.
OPINION | By Bob Ritz
The Tulsa County jail was built between 1995 and 1996. Oklahoma state law states that a county jail may be operated by the county commissioners, by a private entity, or by the county sheriff. The David L. Moss facility was initially operated by the Corrections Corporation of American (CCA), a private for-profit operation, until 1999 when the county commissioners terminated their contract and turned the operation of the jail over to Sheriff Stanley Glanz.
The jail has had a 287g contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from its early days. The contract is for about eighty beds to hold Tulsa County residents who are foreign nationals. Sheriff’s deputies do not go out into the community to arrest these people. Instead, they only patrol those parts of the county that are not incorporated, or about six percent of the total land area. ICE, from their office on East Skelly Drive, occasionally conducts raids in the county and takes arrestees to David L. Moss. However, most of the foreign national detainees in the jail are brought in by officers of the Tulsa Police Department. For the most part, they are brought in for minor traffic offenses or other misdemeanors.
The City of Tulsa Police Department is a member of the Major Chiefs Association, an organization of thirty-eight police departments nationwide. Members of the Major Chiefs Association say that immigration is a federal issue, and member departments neither have the interest nor the resources to engage in immigration matters. This has not prevented rogue officers from racially profiling or engaging in pre-textual traffic stops.
Photo Courtesy of Louis Anderson
When an arrested person enters into the booking process at David L. Moss, they are all immediately asked questions about their race and national origin, which is in violation of a state law that specifies the following: only persons charged with a felony or who represent a threat to national security are to be questioned about their nationality. Persons who indicate a citizenship other than American are turned over to ICE for additional scrutiny. ICE has seventy-two hours to place a hold on those prisoners once they have been found guilty and their sentence has been served. However, many Tulsa police officers will drop the charges once the prisoner has entered into the system, because they know that once a foreign national enters the booking process, they will be turned over to ICE. Consequently, Tulsa County has prisoners who are subject to deportation who have no charges at all.
An ICE bus removes these prisoners from the jail in the early morning hours once a week. Families are not given notice, nor are they able to say goodbye to their loved ones.
In 2007, the County entered into a new agreement with the federal government known as the Inter-Governmental Service Agreement (IGSA). Initially for 140 beds, it allows Tulsa to hold prisoners for ICE from other parts of the state. This contract was later extended to 200 beds. More recently, it has been expanded to 300 beds even though the Sheriff is not legally allowed to contract and the County Commissioners were left out of the process. The Tulsa County Jail is currently holding over 100 inmates from Texas. This does not make the residents of Tulsa County any safer. (At this point, we do not know whether these ICE holds are criminal in nature or administrative.)
Photo Courtesy of Louis Anderson
The County Commissioners cannot cancel the ICE contracts outright, only the Sheriff can do that. However, the County Commissioners can refuse to renew the 287g contract when it comes up for renewal. The next renewal period will be in June 2019. The County Commissioners can ask questions of the Sheriff, much like an ordinary citizen can, but they have no day-to-day control over the jail.
Ron Peters, District 3 County Commissioner Republican, is somewhat of an apologist for the Sheriff. Karen Keith, District 2 County Commissioner Democrat, voted no to renew the 287g contract two years ago, but her current position is unclear. District 1 does not have an incumbent. The seat will be decided in November in a race between Stan Sallee, a Republican from Collinsville, and State Senator Kevin Mathews, a Democrat, who has indicated a qualified “no” on 287g.
The Sheriff is running his jail without much oversight. The Tulsa County Jail Authority does nothing. The Sheriff recently tried to impose additional sanctions on interpreters that didn’t apply to other visitors such as clergy. This was seen as an effort to make legal representation more difficult. Further, the Sheriff’s public relations person, Casey Roebuck, refuses to answer routine questions from the public, and has even refused to answer open records requests submitted by the ACLU on behalf of a Tulsa plaintiff. Ms. Roebuck apparently sees her job as running interference for the Sheriff, not in serving the public. Ms. Roebuck recently refused to answer questions about the Sheriff’s visitation policy, which many immigration activists think is in violation of his ICE contract. She also refused to answer how many of the detention officers in the pods that hold Hispanic prisoners speak Spanish. This has been an issue for a long time. We know that the County has deputies who speak Spanish, but not detention officers, who themselves are paid much less. The pods use a phone translation line for inmate issues.
Many of the current problems with the operation of the jail are a result of the Sheriff hiring David Parker to be the Jail Administrator. Parker, and his assistant, Marty Roberts, have a combined total of over sixty years corrections experience with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and try to run the jail like a DOC facility in terms of things like the new restrictive visitation policy.
The opening of the new city jail has spelled some relief for undocumented residents. Now only arrestees with state charges will be taken to David L. Moss. City residents will be taken to the new city jail where they will be allowed to bond out like citizens. However, the new city jail only holds thirty prisoners ― and if there is an overflow, they will be transported to Okmulgee, which is also an ICE facility.
Bob Ritz is a contributing writer of The Black Wall Street Times, an immigration activist, and a retired instructor of history and political science at Tulsa Community College. He is also the author of Here They Are, Ready or Not, a book about immigration that is available on Amazon.