Orange County jails to stop holding ICE detainees

The Orange County Sheriff's Department announced Wednesday it's ending its contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and will no longer hold detainees in order to use that space to expand mental health services for inmates.

The sheriff's department has leased bed space to ICE since 2010, and the current agreement expires in July 2020 but allows for early termination. Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes said once the contract is formally terminated, ICE has 120 days to transfer detainees to other facilities.

Barnes said the move will allow maximized use of jail bed space and focus on the needs of the mentally ill.

"Ending the contract early is necessary to ensure that we are utilizing our resources to meet our local responsibilities," Barnes said in a video posted on social media.

"Since 2015, we have seen a 40 percent increase in open mental health cases in our jails. The number of mental health cases now reach almost 1,800 on any given day," Barnes said.

Detainees housed on behalf of ICE will most likely be transferred outside of California and potentially away from family members in the state, Barnes said, citing "statutory language within SB-54."

"The decision to end our agreement will not impact public safety," the sheriff said. "We will continue to work with ICE within the confines of SB-54 to ensure they are alerted to the release of serious and violent offenders within our custody who have ICE detainers."

James A. Musick jail, which houses more than 1,300 male and female inmates in Irvine, will also be temporarily closed to offset the loss of revenue, Barnes said.

Two new state-funded facilities are currently under construction, estimated to be completed by fall 2022, designed to meet the need's of the current inmate population.