Sunday, May 04, 2008

Use of immigration holds upon arrest taking up scarce Travis jail space

The Travis County Jail is perennially overcrowded, but the Sheriff says he would be "derelict" if he didn't voluntarily pursue policies that worsened the problem. Count me among the skeptical.

At issue: Whether to put an immigration hold on immigrants who're charged with crimes upon arrest or upon conviction. After the Sheriff created a partnership with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to shift to detention upon arrest, the number of beds taken up by immigration holds increased 400%, reports the Austin Statesman.

The Sheriff's new policy can even "lead to the deportation of family members arrested on misdemeanor charges such as traffic offenses." These are people who, if the ICE "hold" didn't exist, a judge would have evaluated for release eligibility based on flight risk and the actual danger the pose to the public. (For 62% of those of those with immigration holds, said the Statesman, their highest offense is a misdemeanor.)

So by definition, the increased number of holds represent people who a judge would otherwise have considered safe to release on bail. To me that's a misuse of county jail resources, filling beds with people who pose no danger that are needed for more serious offenders.

Sheriff Hamilton says he'd be "derelict" to change the policy, but he's not an island unto himself. If I were on the Travis County Commissioners' Court, I'd sure be reticent to finance any extra funding requests for the jail while the Sheriff is intentionally, needlessly exacerbating the overcrowding problem. And as a Travis County voter, I'll certainly feel the same way about any future requests for budget hikes or jail bond approvals as long as this is going on.

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W W Woodward said...


If Travis County has a contract with ICE I think you will find that the county is making a considerable amount of money by holding the "illegals".

Travis County can "farm out" their county prisoners to a private facility at a far lower per diem than the feds are paying for the Travis County bed space.

County prisoners cost the county. The federal prisoners are paying deputies' and jailers' salaries and financing road-grader blades .

Anonymous said...

Regardless of any profit motive, the bottom line is they are in the country illegally. It's high time someone, state, county or federal does something to enforce the law.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You could say the same about many laws ... "It's high time someone ... does something."

But the jail is overcrowded, and historically poorly managed in Austin. The biggest overcrowding source here is PRETRIAL detention, and this puts the county in the position of doing pretrial detention for trivial misdemeanors.

It's not a question of profit but purpose. The county jail exists to ensure the public safety of the locals, not as a federal immigration fishnet. IMO misusing it detracts from its already overtaxed primary purpose, which in turn makes the public less safe.

Anonymous said...

re: w.w woodward.

If the defendant is in jail & has a county or state charge with an ICE hold, then the feds don't pay for their incarceration. If they are being held ONLY on the ICE hold the county may get reimbursed. So, if you are being held on a DWI, which you could normally be bonded on, but then an ICE hold is added, the county doesn't make one red cent.

W W Woodward said...

Anon 02:58

As long as an inmate is being held on Texas charges the county should be responsible for feeding, clothing, medical, and housing. Whether an ICE hold exists or not.

Once the Texas charges are disposed of and the only reason the inmate is in jail the feds should be picking up the bill or should transfer the inmate to a fed holding facility.

If an inmate is bonded out on all state charges and the only reason he is being held is for the ICE hold, the feds should be paying the bill. However, an inmate doesn't have much incentive to bond out if he's going to be held indefinitely anyway and as long as he's in jail he's living for free at taxpayer expense. And will take full advantage of any freebies he can scrounge. It doesn't take long for an illegal to figure out how to say "everything" when the indigent issue is distributed. I've inventoried as many as 14 tubes of toothpaste and twenty toothbrushes in an outgoing illegal's property. Chances are, he'd never seen a toothbrush prior to going to jail.

Of course, all the money comes out of taxpayers' pockets - just not exclusively Travis County taxpayers' pockets.