As of last July 2010, about 11,760 of the offenders incarcerated in the Texas State prison system, or 7.5 percent of the total prison population, claimed foreign residency, according to testimony from Jerry McGinty, the budget director for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.Since about 56% of Texas prison inmates are eligible for parole, according to TDCJ's most recent statistical report (pdf, p. 15), there's a good chance that many of those eligible for deportation have also finished their minimum sentence. In those instances, particularly when the risk factors for recidivism are minimal, exactly what is the parole board waiting for?
Through current agreements with the federal government, specifically Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, the state can identify prisoners eligible for deportation at the end of their sentences. Roughly 9,800 of the foreigners incarcerated had ICE detainers placed on them. Though not all entered the country illegally, McGinty estimated that the state pays at least $171 million annually to detain prisoners who could be deported. The remaining inmates with foreigner status, McGinty said, are currently being processed to determine if they, too, qualify for deportation.
A competitive federal grant program known as the Criminal Alien Assistance Program partially reimburses state governments for those costs. For Texas, however, that hardly settles the score. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice received $17.9 million in fiscal year 2010 — just 10 percent of the costs of incarceration.
In case you're keeping track, Texas is spending $171 million to house offenders eligible for deportation, and another $320 million on medical care alone for frail elderly prisoners. At a recent House Corrections Committee meeting, the chairman revealed that "40% of TDCJ's $800 million healthcare budget was going to pay to care for frail, elderly inmates" at a time when the number of medical paroles is declining. Add to that the fact that the parole board is less likely to follow its own release guidelines for low-risk inmates compared to high-risk ones, and the parole board is at the center of a lot of TDCJ's overspending problems.
Not all of those inmates should be released, but if inmates in these categories were evaluated based on less fearful, more evidence-based risk-assessment criteria, the state could save hundreds of millions and likely close multiple prison units just from focusing on how to safely release those prisoners. In the case of medical releases, likely either Medicare or Medicaid will pay the bills on the outside, with state government picking up none of the costs for the former and a little more than 1/3 of the latter. So it shifts costs, but from a state government perspective, in the context of current rules and programs, it makes tons of budget sense sense to offload healthcare costs to the feds.
These are policy decisions so they weren't suggested by TDCJ in its recent Legislative Appropriations Request. But for those at the capitol and the Governor's office seriously considering how to cut unnecessary state spending, there'd be a lot of benefit from somehow requiring the parole board to more closely vet such release candidates based on less restrictive criteria. The parole board could do more to cut the state corrections budget - especially if the state ups its investment in reentry, community supervision and intermediate sanctions - than any legislative committee will likely be able to accomplish without their assistance.