R. Kelly Sheridan replaces Brendan P. Doherty at Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility
CENTRAL FALLS — Providence Lawyer R. Kelly Sheridan is the new chairman of the governing board of the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility, Mayor James A. Diossa announced on Monday.
Sheridan will assume office “immediately,” Diossa said.
Sheridan replaces Brendan P. Doherty, former superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police, who stepped down.
Sheridan is a partner at Roberts, Carroll, Feldstein & Peirce. He represented Diossa when the city filed for bankruptcy in August 2011.
Diossa appointed Doherty a year ago and he easily won approval by the City Council. He had been working to get immigrant detainees returned to the federal prisoner holding facility that has struggled to keep its cells full.
In December 2008, officials from Immigration & Customs Enforcement removed 153 immigrant detainees and severed its contract with the jail following the death of a Chinese national while in custody. The decision sent Wyatt into a financial free fall and it has scrambled to fill its more than 700 beds.
The government reimburses the for-profit jail $101.75 per day for each prisoner housed there by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Doherty met with Sen. Jack Reed and had conversations with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse about having the immigrant detainees returned to make the jail more profitable. So far, ICE has inspected the jail, but has yet to return immigrant detainees. Doherty said he’s optimistic that the detainees may return by year’s end.
He said he thinks it’s time for a lawyer with experience with bonds to take over as board chairman. The jail pays $8.8 million annually to cover the cost of bonds that were used for the jail’s construction and expansion. Those bonds have an interest rate of 7.25 percent, far beyond the going rate today. The annual payments will continue through 2035.
Doherty said that he’s hopeful that Sheridan can find a way to reduce the debt.
Diossa credited Doherty for leading the five-member board and bringing “integrity and transparency” to the organization.
Sheridan, a registered lobbyist in the state, has extensive experience representing cities, towns, mayors and city councils in legal proceedings. He also has a wealth of knowledge dealing with licensing and regulatory issues.
2013 was a tough year for the jail. Figures show that the average daily prisoner population from Jan. 1 through June 30 was 608, about 10 percent less than the 675 or so required to keep Wyatt solvent. The drop in the prison population has continued this year.
Doherty said he will make himself available to help Sheridan with his transition to board chairman.
Diossa and Central Falls would like to eventually get some revenue from the jail like it used to before December 2008. The city used to collect about $50,000 a month in impact fees, a significant sum for the state’s poorest city, which has an annual budget of $17 million. Until the prison population climbs to pre-2008 numbers, the jail will not be in line to get impact fees.
By W. ZACHARY MALINOWSKI PROVIDENCE JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
Roberts, Carroll, Feldstein & Peirce is a full service law firm founded in 1971. The firm’s continued success and growth are attributable to a philosophy of exceeding clients’ expectations and earning their long-term loyalty by offering practical legal solutions with proven business acumen for a reasonable fee.