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Crime & Justice

Report: Releasing undocumented immigrants could help relieve Calif.'s jail overcrowding

A jail cell.
A jail cell.
Still Burning/Flickr Creative Commons

A new report from the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice suggests California jails could alleviate overcrowding by refusing to detain non-criminals accused of immigration violations. Read the complete report below.

When a person is arrested in California, their fingerprints are automatically sent to a national database run by the Department of Homeland Security. If Immigration and Customs Enforcement suspects an individual in custody may by in the country illegally, the agency can place a "hold" on that person while they investigate.

In some counties (like Los Angeles), local sheriffs have decided to only detain people accused of serious or violent crimes or have a criminal history. In other counties, the local sheriff complies, regardless of why the person was originally arrested, including for traffic offenses and nuisance crimes like drinking in public. 

According to the report:"71,781 ICE holds made between July 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012 were for individuals with no documented criminal histories."

At two days per hold, the report's authors estimate those detainers equated to 143,562 "bed-days" in local California jails. 

However, the trend shifted after the state embarked upon prison realignment in 2011. It's the state's way of complying with a Supreme Court order to reduce its prison population and shifted responsibility for thousands of felons to the county level. The stress on local jails appears to have prompted some counties to reconsider its policies on detaining undocumented immigrants.

While there were 42,078 ICE holds in the 15 months before realignment began in October 2011, that number dropped to 29,703 in the 15 months after. 

With the state looking to further reduce its prison population – California's latest appeal of the court order was rejected last week – local jails may be further strained in the coming months.

The report's authors suggest immigration holds might be a place to look to help with the burden: "California agencies should deemphasize the incarceration of non-criminal ICE holds to concentrate on more crucial priorities as Realignment (sic) progresses."

ICE holds and realignment by scprweb