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Federal Jail Reimbursements Cut for Undocumented Criminal Aliens

By Laura Nicholes, TAC Legislative Staff and
Tim Brown, TAC Senior County Analyst
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a policy decision to discontinue State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP) payments for inmates whose immigration status is "unknown." This will be a significant change to the FY2012 reimbursement formula that will heavily impact counties and will shift local reimbursements to other recipients, such as to the State of Texas, for housing undocumented criminal aliens.
SCAAP is administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in conjunction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). SCAAP provides federal payments to states and localities that incurred correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law, and incarcerated for at least four consecutive days during the reporting period. Each year, local entities (i.e., county jails) provide the BJA detailed lists of suspected undocumented criminal aliens, including the number of days they were held in the facility and salary costs for supervising the inmates so that an average cost per day can be calculated.
Upon receiving the list, the BJA sends the information to the DHS to determine and separate inmate records into three categories: (1) confirmed undocumented criminal aliens whose records exist in the federal databases, (2) those whose citizenship status can be determined and are not undocumented criminal aliens, and (3) those whose status is “unknown” and unable to be determined from information available at the Department of Homeland Security.
The National Association of Counties (NACo) released an Action Alert on June 8 estimating that 80 percent of inmates of unknown immigration status in county jails are undocumented and that reimbursements for a significant portion of undocumented inmates in local jail systems will likely be reduced by more than 50 percent nationwide.
Since county jails are the first point of contact with the criminal justice system for many undocumented aliens, there is no background information on these individuals, and the inmates are typically held for a shorter period of time in county facilities, making it more difficult for them to be processed by the federal government before they are transferred to a state institution after conviction. As a result, reports NACo, the “DOJ's change has much less impact on the states, as they typically hold inmates for a much longer period of time, giving them frequent opportunities to be processed by ICE agents […]”
In FY2011, only 114 Texas counties submitted a request for SCAAP reimbursement. Each entity received an actual award amount that is their prorated share of the amount budgeted by Congress for that fiscal year. The budgeted amount also tends to vary greatly from year to year. As a consequence, no entity is ever fully compensated for holding undocumented criminal aliens.
TAC estimates show that entities such as the State of Texas, which has relatively few unknowns, will tend to receive a greater portion of the total funding in FY2012 under the new formula.
Entities such as Texas counties, which tend to have far more “unknown” days, will see their awards decrease.
The following chart demonstrates how the actual amount awarded to the county for FY2011 would have differed had the new funding formula been in place at that time. Estimates of the impact of this policy decision are shown for selected entities.1 Estimates for FY2012 using the new formula are not included.