Justice and Law Enforcement:

Information on Criminal Aliens Incarcerated in Federal and State Prisons and Local Jails

GAO-05-337R: Published: Apr 7, 2005. Publicly Released: May 9, 2005.

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When the United States incarcerates criminal aliens--noncitizens convicted of crimes while in this country legally or illegally--in federal and state prisons and local jails, the federal government bears much of the costs. It pays to incarcerate criminal aliens in federal prisons and reimburses state and local governments for a portion of their costs of incarcerating some, but not all, criminal aliens illegally in the country through the Department of Justice's State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) managed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). Some state and local governments have expressed concerns about the impact that criminal aliens have on already overcrowded prisons and jails and that the federal government reimburses them for only a portion of their costs of incarcerating criminal aliens. Congress requested that we provide information concerning criminal aliens incarcerated at the federal, state, and local level. For the criminal aliens incarcerated in federal prisons, and for criminal aliens for which state and local governments received reimbursement through SCAAP, this report addresses the following questions: (1) For recent years, how many criminal aliens were incarcerated? (2) What is the country of citizenship or country of birth of these criminal alien inmates? and (3) What are the estimated costs of incarcerating criminal aliens?

At the federal level, the number of criminal aliens incarcerated increased from about 42,000 at the end of calendar year 2001 to about 49,000 at the end of calendar year 2004--a 15 percent increase. The percentage of all federal prisoners who are criminal aliens has remained the same over the last 3 years--about 27 percent. The majority of criminal aliens incarcerated at the end of calendar year 2004 were identified as citizens of Mexico. We estimate the federal cost of incarcerating criminal aliens--BOP's cost to incarcerate criminals and reimbursements to state and local governments under SCAAP--totaled approximately $5.8 billion for calendar years 2001 through 2004. BOP's cost to incarcerate criminal aliens rose from about $950 million in 2001 to about $1.2 billion in 2004--a 14 percent increase. Federal reimbursements for incarcerating criminal aliens in state prisons and local jails declined from $550 million in 2001 to $280 million in 2004, in a large part due to a reduction in congressional appropriations. At the state level, the 50 states received reimbursement for incarcerating about 77,000 criminal aliens in fiscal year 2002 and 47 states received reimbursement for incarcerating about 74,000 in fiscal year 2003. For the 5 states incarcerating about 80 percent of these criminal aliens in fiscal year 2003, about 68 percent incarcerated in midyear 2004 reported that the country of citizenship or country of birth as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, or Cuba. We estimate that 4 of these 5 states spent about $1.6 billion to incarcerate criminal aliens reimbursed through SCAAP during fiscal years 2002 and 2003. We estimate that the federal government reimbursed these four states about 25 percent or less of the estimated cost to incarcerate these criminal aliens in fiscal years 2002 and 2003. At the local level, in fiscal year 2002, SCAAP reimbursed about 750 local governments for incarcerating about 138,000 criminal aliens. In fiscal year 2003, SCAAP reimbursed about 700 local governments for about 147,000 criminal aliens, with 5 local jail systems accounting for about 30 percent of these criminal aliens. The 147,000 criminal aliens incarcerated during fiscal year 2003 spent a total of about 8.5 million days in jail. Mexico leads as the country of birth for foreign-born arrestees at these 5 local jails in fiscal year 2003. We estimate that 4 of these 5 local jails spent an estimated $390 million in fiscal years 2002 and 2003 to incarcerate criminal aliens and were reimbursed about $73 million through SCAAP. We estimate that the federal government reimbursed these localities about 25 percent or less of the estimated criminal alien incarceration cost in fiscal years 2002 and 2003.

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