State report excluded data on criminal aliens

Letter date: 
Monday, January 14, 2013
Letter publisher:
Letter author: 
David Olen Cross
Letter body: 

The Oregon Commission on Public Safety’s final report to the governor, submitted on Dec. 17, lacked important information that had been submitted to commission members and staff over the last two years. This information concerns where growth in Oregon’s prison population growth had occurred over the last half decade.

The commission was created to find ways to bring rising corrections costs under control. This can’t be done without understanding where growth in the state Department of Corrections’ prison population is coming from. A substantial portion of this growth is related to illegal immigration. According to information obtained from a DOC Inmate Population Profile, published online monthly, on Oct. 1, 2012, there were 14,234 inmates in the state’s 14 prisons.

Not included in the population profile was data obtained from corrections staff showing that there were up to 1,242 foreign nationals in the state’s prison system. Criminal aliens made up approximately 8.7 percent state’s prison population.

These criminal aliens are inmates the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has identified as possibly being in the country illegally. The agency has requested that state corrections officials place “ICE detainers” on them so that the inmates will be transferred to ICE custody after completing their prison terms.

From Oct. 1, 2007, through Oct. 1, 2012, the Department of Corrections’ criminal alien inmate prison population grew by 257 prisoners — a 26.1 percent increase.

Over the same five-year period, the DOC’s domestic inmate prison population grew by 424 prisoners, a 3.4 percent increase.

Combining those numbers shows that over the past five years Oregon’s overall prison population grew by 681 inmates; criminal alien inmates accounted for 37.7 percent of this growth.

Criminal aliens in the state prison system were sentenced to serve time from 29 of 36 Oregon counties. Sixty-seven, or 5.4 percent of the total, came from Lane County. Multnomah County had the highest number — 286, or 23 percent. Marion and Washington counties were not far behind, with 282 and 229 respectively, accounting for 22.7 percent and 18 percent of criminal alien inmates. All other counties sent a combined total of 378 aliens to state prisons, or 30.1 percent of the total.

As significant as the number is of criminal aliens incarcerated in Oregon prisons is the number of crime victims involved. The Commission on Public Safety should have included this information in its report — 1,242 inmates means at least that number of victims, many of whom were victims of serious crimes requiring lengthy sentences under the voter-approved Measure 11 sentencing rules.

The 10 most common crime convictions of the criminal aliens in state prisons include 129 assaults (10.4 percent), 28 burglaries (2.2 percent), 28 driving offenses (2.2 percent) 175 drugs (14.1 percent) 153 homicides (12.3 percent) 50 kidnappings (4 percent), 175 rapes (14.1 percent), 79 robberies (6.4 percent) 233 cases of sex abuse (18.8 percent) and 93 cases of sodomy (7.5 percent). There were 99 other types of crimes (8.0 percent).

Furthermore, commission members should have included in their report more information on the demographics of the state prison population — who they are and where they’re from — including their countries of origin. Mexico is by far the most common self-declared country of origin, with 1,018 criminal alien inmates, or 82 percent of the total, claiming to be from that country. Others include 17 from El Salvador, 31 from Guatemala, 12 from Honduras, 14 from Ukraine, 18 from Vietnam and 132 from other countries.

Beyond providing criminal alien incarceration numbers — per county, per type of crime and per country of origin — the commission should have analyzed and made recommendations on how to mitigate the high cost that criminal alien inmates impose upon the state’s prison system.

Incarcerating a prisoner in the state Department of Corrections’ prison system costs approximately $84.81 per day.

The cost of incarcerating 1,242 criminal aliens is about $105,334 per day, $737,338 per week, or $38,446,917 per year.

The federal State Criminal Alien Assistance Program pays some of these costs, with an award of $2,669,738 in the 2011 fiscal year. If Oregon receives the same amount of federal funding in 2012, the net cost of incarcerating 1,242 criminal aliens in Oregon will be at least $35,777,179.

None of these cost estimates includes the money spent for legal services, indigent defense, court costs or victim assistance.

It is disappointing that the Commission on Public Safety didn’t have the time — or take the time — to analyze and incorporate this information in its report, particularly if the commission’s goal was to make cogent recommendations to Gov. John Kitzhaber and the Legislature on how to mitigate the future growth in the state’s inmate population and control the increasing cost of incarceration.