The California budget is burdened by the cost of imprisoning foreign nationals, prompting Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign an executive order March 1, which will mandate turning over foreign national state parolees to the federal government, thus removing them from the state parole system.
According to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s office, California is housing at least, 10,000 foreign nationals in its prison system. The cost of housing an inmate in a state prison is approximated at near $49,000 per year according to Jeanne Woodford, former acting secretary of corrections. In addition, it costs the state another $14,000 a year for health care costs, which makes the total cost of keeping 10,000 foreign prisoners in state custody approximately $630 million per year.
The federal government used to pick up half of the cost due to their interest in offender deportation. George W. Bush removed the funding by an executive order because California doesn’t honor the exchange treaty most of the time, according to corrections officials.
The governor’s figure on how many foreign prisoners are in California prisons is disputable, because, Section 1 of Stats.1992, (A.B.2519), which provides the legislature’s findings that: as of March 31, 1994, there were 13,558 persons in the Department of Corrections facilities that were subject to United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) holds potentially an additional 5,415 persons in these facilities were also subject to INS holds. Based on these numbers, it is estimated that the real number of foreign nationals in the California’s prison system is twice as much as the governor’s figure. The issue, if considered by the legislature during the state budget crisis may end up saving the State $1.2 billion a year.
California Penal Code Section §2912, “Foreign Prisoner Transfer Program,” provides for notification to foreign born inmates concerning eligibility to serve term of imprisonment in their nation of citizenship. Subsection (b)(1) & (2) mandates that The Board of Prison Terms shall actively encourage each eligible foreign national inmate to apply for return to his or her nation of citizenship, and that the Board shall adopt the model program developed by the State of Texas for encouraging participation in the federal repatriation program. None of these laws as of yet have been set into action, and none were considered by the legislatures during the last state budget negotiations.
WAITING TO GO
“I have been filing requests for prisoner transfer to my native Kosovo for nearly 10 years, but received no response from the Parole Board. Now, after 27 years I’m found suitable for parole and the governor did not object, I‘m only waiting for ICE to pick me up to go all the way home. As far as I’m concerned, these laws are created only to be applied to some people, not to everyone,” says a former state prisoner, Ali Pertsoni, 56, a citizen of Kosovo.
Another foreign national lifer inmate says, “I even signed a waiver challenging deportation in federal court in order to expedite my return to my homeland now that I exceeded my minimum eligibility for parole. It seams neither the Board nor the prison counselor knew any of these procedures, one of my former counselors never heard of the Prisoner Transfer Treaty. I obtained the form from other inmates who have similar interest.”
The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s yearly report to the Legislature doesn’t include any statistic regarding foreign nationals in the custody of the state. There are a number of inmates who meet the minimum eligibility of parole (MEPD) and many are seeking repatriation.