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GAO report said criminal alien numbers are up

The number of criminal aliens in U.S. jails is up and the majority of those inmates are in local facilities, according to a recently-released government study.

The report, completed in March but released on April 21 by the Government Accountability Office, said the number of criminal aliens in federal prisons in fiscal 2010 numbered about 55,000, while the number of federally-subsidized state incarcerations under the State Criminal Alien Assistance (SCAAP) program was about 296,000 in fiscal 2009, according to the study. The majority of the aliens were from Mexico, it said.

The study said the numbers for aliens in federal facilities showed a slight increase -- about five percent -- from the last time it counted back in 2005, but the number of SCAAP incarcerations was up 35 percent from the last count in 2003.  In 2005, GAO reported that the percentage of criminal aliens in federal prisons was about 27 percent of the total inmate population from 2001 through 2004.

The GAO’s random sampling of criminal alien record painted a portrait of the average inmate. It said the average criminal alien had 7 arrests; 65 percent were arrested at least once for an immigration offense; and about 50 percent were arrested at least once for a drug offense. It said immigration, drugs, and traffic violations accounted for about 50 percent of arrest offenses and about 90 percent of those sentenced in federal court in fiscal 2009 were convicted of immigration and drug-related offenses.

It noted that about 40 percent of those convicted after DOJ terrorism-related investigations were aliens.

Criminal aliens jailed under SCAAP in state prison systems in Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas were convicted of various offenses in fiscal year 2008  -  the most recently available data at the time of GAO’s analysis. The highest percentage of criminal alien convictions in Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas were for drug-related offenses, although murder convictions topped the list in New York in fiscal 2008, it said.

GAO estimated the federal government spent about $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion annually from fiscal 2005 to 2009 on reimbursements to states and localities under SCAAP. The programs’ reimbursement formula is dated and the DoJ plans to update it.  The current reimbursement methods were developed over a decade ago using an analysis based on 1997 immigration data, it said.


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