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The Etowah Visitation Project: Supporting the needs of ICE detainees

Katherine Weathers, Etowah Visitation Project, and Hy Thurman, Young Patriot Organization  |  Issue: July | August 2019
Shutdown Etowah County Detention Center

Members of Shutdown Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, and the Etowah Visitation Project, 2015.


Etowah County Alabama is under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house up to 350 male immigrants at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, AL. The facility also serves as the county jail for over 500 inmates. The two populations are housed separately.

The Etowah Visitation Project (ECDC) is a member group of Freedom for Immigrants, formerly known as Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, a national network which visits and monitors approximately 55 immigrant prisons in 23 states.

The immigrant men being held are under ICE administration. They are NOT being held for criminal acts, but for immigration violations (some for the “crime” of seeking asylum). Some have been held for many months or years.

Conditions at ECDC are difficult for all prisoners, both county and those in ICE custody. There is no outdoor recreation and prisoners can go for months or years without exposure to the sun.

Alabama sheriffs have been able to profit from pocketing “unused” food money allocated to feed prisoners. This practice was codified in state law in 1939, and it has been the subject of intense investigation in recent years by Alabama journalists and human and legal rights organizations.

One of the most egregious examples of this practice was Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, who left office in January 2019. Over a three-year period he took over $750,000 from the food money account for his personal use. Other Alabama sheriffs have engaged in this practice, and many sheriffs have refused to comply with public records requests concerning their use of food funds.

SB228, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur), would change the law which allows sheriffs to personally benefit from jail food funds. It passed the state Senate in April. If it passes the House and is signed by the governor, among other things it would require that food funds be used for feeding prisoners, with unspent balances carried forward to the next year.

For more information, please see the Etowah Visitation Project Facebook page or contact Katherine Weathers, katw002@aol.com. Donations can be made at the Interfaith Mission Service, www.interfaithmissionservice.org; select PayPay or credit card.

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