WINN PARISH, La. (9/27/19)– Behind the gates of the freedom church are more than 200 men, praising God.
It’s a tall white chapel with beautiful fuschia flowers meticulously lined up the walk way. The freedom church is a place of worship.
A place of worship inside of the Winn Parish Correctional Center, a facility that currently holds nearly 1,000 ICE detainees.
In the courtyard, dozens of men walking towards the gates as they see our cameras. They’re all sporting the same dark blue uniform, many wearing the signature orange jail-house slides. But officials who run this facility say the life of these ice detainees is far from the life of a prisoner.
“This is not a punitive detention, this is an administrative process, and we provide the highest levels of service to our population, consistent with ICE’s detention standards, which in the industry is the gold standard,” said Scott Sutterfield, development executive with LaSalle Corrections.
As we walk through the massive facility, we see that proclaimed “gold standard” at work. There’s a wing specifically designated for medical treatment. Two permanent doctors are assigned to the facility–and one is always on call.
“We offer the broadest range in activities,” said Sutterfield.
Facility officials say these detainees have four hours of recreation a day. That can be spent doing a number of things–like playing soccer, volleyball or trying their hand at air hockey.
Sutterfield says one misconception is that these detainees are treated poorly.
“The level of care, and custody to our population is paramount. we pride ourselves on more of an open compound concept,” said Sutterfield.
Sutterfield says though there is structure to an ICE detainee’s day, they have much more freedom than the public understands. He says while detainees usually stay from 30 to 45 days, they have the opportunity to communicate with their families everyday if they chose.
Sheriff Cranford Jordan wants Winn Parish residents to understand–these detainees aren’t criminals.
“These are strictly detainees. They have not been convicted of a violent crime,” said Sheriff Jordan.
ICE, the federal government and Winn Parish struck a deal back in May to house over a thousand illegal immigrants. The facility is paid $70 a day per inmate by the federal government. Sheriff Jordan says the deal has been an opportunity for tremendous economic growth in the parish.
“The employees were originally making $10 an hour, and with us holding ICE detainees. $10 went to $18.44 an hour. This money is going back into our community,” said Sheriff Jordan.
We caught up with locals to see how they feel about having hundreds of illegal immigrants housed in their neighborhood. The response was pretty positive.
“I feel like if it evolves as it has been presented to us, I think it’ll be good,” said Winn Parish resident Benny Smith.
“Before those came in we had murderers and people with mental issues. These have not necessarily committed a dangerous crime. They’re there until their case is adjudicated so what’s the difference?” said Audrey, a Winn Parish resident.