Sunday, November 04, 2007

Recalcitrant judges, not Mexican immigrants, causing Panhandle jail overcrowding problems

I've argued repeatedly that, from a flat, statistical perspective, it's false to argue that Mexican and Latin American immigration increases crime. In fact, the opposite is true: Immigrants from Latin American countries commit fewer crimes than US citizens across the board.

But still we see headlines like this one in the Amarillo Globe News: "Illegal immigrants filling county jails." So which is true? In some cases, arguably, both. But why?

According to the article, several rural Panhandle counties renting out beds from their neighbors can rightfully point to illegal immigrants in their custody taking up needed bed space. But reading past the headline, we find that this has become a problem only in three quite small, rural jails - when your jail only has 30 beds, five extra people can make a difference. Plus we find, once again, that the reason for overcrowding is not the volume of crimes committed, but decisions by local judges not to grant reasonable bonds for low-level misdemeanants:

Ochiltree Sheriff Terry Bouchard said a proposed agreement between Ochiltree County Jail and the Dallam-Hartley County Jail will allow the county to ship inmates to the bi-county jail at $40 per day per inmate. Moore and Carson County both ship inmates to other jails but would have their crowding issues relieved if illegal immigrants could bond out. ...

Corrections Officer Christie Rex said most of the 11 inmates with ICE holds have misdemeanor charges against them.

"If they were able to bond on those charges, my jail wouldn't nearly be as full. That would help us," Rex said.

Most of the jail officials did agree that ICE was punctual about picking up inmates once they had resolved their state issues. ...

"They are here and I can't get rid of them," [Sheriff Tam] Terry said. "If five of them were able to make a bond, that would help us out."

What the Globe News fails to make clear is that local judges, not federal immigration officials, for the most part made the decisions keeping these jails so full. In other Panhandle counties, bail bondsmen Ken Knowles told the Globe-News, "if these people have jobs and are somewhat stable, they will cut them loose on our bond," Knowles said. "We do post bonds on them if the credibility is there."

So if other counties do it, the bail bondsmen are willing, and many (though not all) of the inmates are incarcerated for low-level charges, why blame the immigrants or even the feds for the problem? (That's a bit like shooting yourself in the leg then telling the newspaper it's the fault of your neighbor's barking dog). Instead of blaming immigrants, the headline should have read, "Panhandle judges' double standard filling county jails." That's the real cause of the problem, as I read it.

CLARIFICATION/UPDATE: Knowles' quote and my interpretation wrongly implied that undocumented immigrants are released on bail for low-level offenses. See the comments for a more detailed discussion, but bottom line, I'm told, undocumented immigrants who bond out must immediately go into ICE custody. In fact, Bexar County court administrator Joan Pedrotti writes that that's how Bexar handles illegal immigrant offenders who "do not want to dispose of their misdemeanor charge. They get a PR bond go into ICE custody."

NUTHER UPDATE: I emailed this post to immigration attorney Dan Kowalski, editor of Bender's Immigration Bulletin's Daily Edition, for fact checking. He replied as follows:
it's complicated, but you're post is fine. And important! The complication is this:

1. ICE and its Blackwater-like contractors (CCA, Wackenhut, etc.) don't have enough bed space (see today's L.A. Times article) so they are renting out more and more beds from local jails. Many is the time I've driven to the Comal County Jail in New Braunfels to visit a client.

2. Most such detainees do have "ICE holds" (i.e., detainers) such that posting a local bond only lands them back in ICE custody, which could be, ironically, the same jail, if ICE has contracted bed space in that jail. But in the rare case that a detainee does not have an ICE hold, s/he will be released on bond.

3. Just because there is an ICE hold does NOT mean the person is "illegal." It's just an allegation. Only an immigration judge, after a hearing, gets to say if the person is "legal" or not. (Unless, of course, the person cops to being undocumented in the course of being arrested.)

4. Finally, the most subtle, nuanced complication (never to be heard on Lou Dobbs) is that a few of those "illegal aliens" with ICE holds, even the ones who "admit" to being "illegal," are, in fact, derivative U.S. citizens from birth who don't know it. ICE is locking up, and deporting, more and more U.S. citizens every day. But that's a whole 'nother story...
(Image via the Chicagoist.)


Anonymous said...

With roughly 70% of ALL jail inmates in the US being non-convicted pre-trial defendants, overcrowding is a function of local judges' activity across the nation.

Anonymous said... will you coerce plea bargains if you let them out?

After all, we've got a right to keep our jobs as guards.

Anonymous said...

It's not the amount of the bond keeping them in jail. It's the ICE holds because of the illegal alien status.

Even if they made a bond, they would still be held for INS.

That's what a "hold" is. This isn't about judges and the amount of bond.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Then why does the bondsman give bonds under similar circumstances in other counties? ICE doesn't pick people up pretrial. They wait until after the case is adjudicated and any sentence served. It's the judges deciding that means they shouldn't be given bond.

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous! Everyone has a scapegoat.

Scott - What is the number or percentage of "illegals" in state and federal prison?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't have federal stats offhand, but 5.3% of Texas prison inmates are Mexican nationals, with another 1.03% coming from other Latin American countries. By contrast, about 14% of Texas residents are foreign born, and less than half of them immigrated illegally. So immigrants are much less likely to commit crimes than other Texas residents.

Confirming and amplifying that data, a study from the Migration Policy Institute found that for males age 18-39, "the incarceration rate of the US born (3.51 percent) was four times the rate of the foreign born (0.86 percent)" See the first link in the post for sources.

Anonymous said...

Scott, if they have an ICE hold and make bond on their state/county case they go into ICE custody. It is then up to the feds to decide if they are "bond worthy" on their illegal entry charge.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

So why not just give them a personal bond and make them ICE's problem?

Anonymous said...

Here we very often do if they do not want to dispose of their misdemeanor charge. They get a PR bond go into ICE custody ... if they show up to court their case is set for whatever disposition they choose. If they do not a warrant goes active & they end up back in jail when/if they come back into the country. Then the whole process starts all over again.

Anonymous said...

"So why not just give them a personal bond and make them ICE's problem?"

That happens a lot. Of course it has nothing to do with justice or actual guilt or enforcing the law.