Saturday, March 20, 2010

Federal Prisons Inundated with Foreign Nationals

Monday's blog explored the use of deportation to alleviate prison crowding and budget deficits. The Texas plan was to release nearly 11,400 foreign nationals by turning them over to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officials for deportation.

The Courthouse News Service reported that the federal government holds 210,000 people in prison. Roughly 18 percent of the inmates are housed in private prisons run by contractors. The other 172,000 inmates are squeezed into government facilities that only have a listed capacity of 126,000 beds, which means the buildings hold 37-percent more prisoners than their designs allow.

Federal prison director Harley Lappin said the prison population is expected to grow by an additional 7,000 members next year. This represent a 3-percent increase in prisoners, while state prisons realized a half a percent decrease last year.

The increase in federal prisoners can be attributed to a 45-percent increase in the last two years of people booked for immigration crimes. Lappin noted that countries like Vietnam and Cuba refuse to take back their convicted citizens, leaving the United States to hold some foreign nationals indefinitely. More than a quarter of the federal prisoners, about 55,000, are non-citizens.

My Take

Texas is contemplating a shell game with the federal government. Texas proposes pushing its imprisoned foreign nationals off on the federal government that does not have the capacity to manage more prisoners. The move won't save taxpayers any money, it merely pushes the burden off to the federal government. That obligation will be returned to taxpayers in the form of federal taxes.

The parochial nature of Texas' efforts point to a misguided legislature that is more worried about getting re-elected than tackling important issues in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, this is not unique to the Texas legislature. As long as policymakers insist on being "tough on crime" without generating the "dime," state governments will continue to generate absurd policy to deal with difficult situations.

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