10 April 2006

Foreign Born Persons In Colorado Prisons

The Pueblo Chieftan is reported on the foreign born population of Colorado's prisons:

Here is a breakdown of foreign-born prison inmates who make up 6.6 percent of the adult inmate population in Colorado:

Country Number Percent
Mexico 1,084 5%
Honduras 48 0.2%
Vietnam 41 0.2% E
El Salvador 27 0.1%
Germany 26 0.1%
Canada 19 0.1%
Cuba 17 0.1%
Guatemala 17 0.1%
All other countries 152 0.7%

Figures are as of Dec. 31, 2005

The Pueblo Chieftan fails to make it clear, but merely being foreign born does not imply that you are a non-citizen, and certainly does not imply that you are an illegal immigrant. About 30% of foreign born people in the United States are U.S. citizens and close to two-thirds are either U.S. citizens or have valid visas to be in the United States (e.g. a "green card" aka lawful permanent residency status), although conviction of a felony is grounds for deportation of most immigrants other than refugees entitled to political asylum who are in the United States on valid visas.

Department of Homeland Security statistics estimate (table 7) that there were 144,000 undocumented immigrants in Colorado in 2000. In 2003, there were 433,000 foreign born persons in Colorado (table 41), of whom 22% had entered in 2000 or later. Thus, the percentage of foreign born persons in Colorado who are undocumented is somewhere between 33% (assuming all post-2000 entrants were documented) and 42% (assuming all post-2000 entrants were undocumented). In reality, probably about 36% of the foreign born population of Colorado is undocumented, making a realistic assumption that the mix of documented and undocumented foreign born person is similar in 2000 and 2003. Of course, the incaracerated population is almost certainly not typical of the foreign born population as a whole in many respects, just as the incaracerated native born population is not typical of the native born population as a a whole.

While foreign born people make up 9.7% of the population of Colorado, foreign born people make up only 6.6% of the prison population, meaning that foreign born people in Colorado are about a third less likely to be convicted of felonies in Colorado than persons born in the United States. This is particularly notable because the foreign born population is also, on average, less affluent and less educated than the native born population of the United States, which would lead one to normally expect a higher, rather than a lower percentage of incaracerated persons in that population. Compared to a sample of native born people of similar education and income, foreign born persons are far less likely to be convicted of felonies.

This is probably due in part to the facts that (1) their undocumented status and limited English ability causes many undocumented foreign born people to have low incomes as a result of taking jobs for which they are underqualified, so their socio-economic status may be higher than their current employment reflects, (2) in Mexico and many other major sources of immigration, not having a high school diploma is not restricted to kids are pretty much already on the road to delinquency, as it is in the United States among native born persons, so many people who are high school dropouts in Mexico would have graduated from high school had they grown up in the United States, so lack of a high school education is not a strong as a risk factor for crime in the immigrant population as it is in the native born population, and (3) people who are incapable of providing for themselves at all by legal means, who make up an important share of convicted felon population, tend not to immigrate to the United States or give up and return to the United States; immigrants, documented and undocumented alike, tend to be ambitious and work oriented compared to their peers who did not immigrate.

The Pueblo Chieftan also notes that:

As a result, the state's 21,115-inmate population is made up of offenders from 60 different countries, said Walt Ahrens, public affairs officer for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Of those, 1,084 - about 5 percent of the state's inmate population - are natives of Mexico, according to DOC tabulations made on Dec. 31, 2005.

Gauging the cost of Mexico's immigrants on the state prison coffers is not easy. On average, it costs $71.46 a day to house male inmates and $76.44 a day to house female inmates, Ahrens said. That adds up to an average annual cost of between $26,082 and $27,900 per inmate.

Although the state does pay the lion's share of incarcerating non-citizens, there are some federal reimbursement.

"We receive money from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program from funds administered by the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. The state of Colorado received just over $2.3 million for fiscal year 2005," Ahrens said.

The article also notes that parole hearings require translators for non-English speakers, and that prosecutors are generally indifererent to immigration status, rarely accepting deportation in exchange for dismissing charges, for example. Illegal immigrant prisoners may be subject to deportation upon release. The article closes by noting that immigrant prisoners do not have TB at rates greater than those of native Coloradan prisoners and are not otherwise more subject to health problems.

The bottom line is that immigrant felons, while a fiscal burden on the state, like all criminals, are less of a problem than anti-immigrant opponents would like us to believe.


Anonymous said...

National studies indicate that illegal immigrants comprise a disproportional fraction of prison populations. Why is this not observed in Colorado?

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

The national studies are wrong.

Myra Langerhas said...

I am sure the illegals out on parole always show up for trial too.