Sheriff presents plan for prison in Charlotte to jail immigrants

Federal immigration prison could help NC
By Shawn Flynn,, Aug. 14, 2007

CHARLOTTE -- Mecklenburg County Sheriff Jim Pendergraph and Rep. Sue Myrick are working on the deal that could alleviate the jail overcrowding crisis and not cost a single local tax dollar.

“We have about 550 inmates sleeping on the floor at night," said Pendergraph.

Twenty percent of the entire Mecklenburg County jail population are illegal immigrants. News 14 Carolina learned a plan is in the works to build a 1,500-bed facility to house the illegal immigration population in the southeast.

"This facility would not only be used for Mecklenburg County the way we have it planned or North Carolina. It's going to be large enough to be a point of detention for most of the southeast," said Pendergraph.

Sheriff Pendergraph made the initial presentation to the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday night.

The best part, according to the Sheriff, is local taxpayers won’t pay a dime.

"Some private contractor would build the facility. We would lease it from them and lease it back to the federal government to pay for it and the staff."

Currently the federal government pays $110 a day to house an illegal immigrant or federal prisoner. If you multiply that by 1,500 prisoners, that's more than $60 million a year. That's nearly the cost of building a similar type facility in Texas.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, already wrote a letter expressing major interest in this concept. Commissioners were excited about the plan.

"It'll be built quickly, inexpensively, has a long life," said Republican Commissioner Dan Bishop.

"Certainly we need the bed space and if we can have a partnership with the federal government, we can do it in a way that's not only correctional sound, but fiscally sound," said Democratic Commissioner Parks Helms.

The sheriff said this new facility is desperately needed.

“If we get the facility built here that we're planning, it'll definitely ease our overcrowding situation in that area," said Pendergraph.

The idea for this first-of-its-kind facility in the country is in a preliminary stage. The hope would be the immigration court, scheduled to open next January, would be housed in the same facility to make it easier and faster to process the immigrants.

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