LAO 2005-06 Budget Analysis: General Government

Analysis of the 2005-06 Budget Bill

Legislative Analyst's Office
February 2005

State Does Not Make Full Use of Foreign Inmate Transfer Program

The Foreign Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program has the potential to reduce state incarceration costs, but because of administrative issues, the state does not obtain the maximum benefit that could be achieved. We recommend that the Legislature authorize the expansion of this program to generate more cases and process them more quickly. The resulting incarceration savings would likely offset program costs, and increase in future years. (Reduce Item 5240-001-0001 by $127,000. Increase Item 5440-001-0001 by $110,000.)

How the Program Works. The Foreign Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program, administered by the Board of Prison Terms (BPT) and the California Department of Corrections (CDC), allows inmates who are citizens of foreign countries to be transferred to their home country to serve their prison sentence. Staff in CDC provide a volunteer form to interested inmates. This form is sent to BPT where staff investigate the case to determine whether the inmate meets all eligibility requirements and would be a good candidate for transfer. Once BPT approves the case, it is filed with the United States Department of Justice (US DOJ) which negotiates the transfer with the inmate's home country.

The US DOJ has operated the transfer program since 1977. The BPT received some funding to administer the program in California until 1997, at which time the program was discontinued. In 2002, the Legislature provided the department with one investigator position and a part-time office technician position to restart the program.

Program Reduces State Costs. Transferring an inmate out of the state prison population results in savings to CDC of approximately $18,000 for each year that the inmate does not serve in prison. The total state savings generated by the program depends on the number of inmates that are successfully transferred each year, as well as the length of time that each inmate would have served in state prison if not transferred. Accordingly, state savings depend largely on the number of applications submitted by inmate volunteers and how quickly the state can investigate and process these requests.

California Does Not Transfer Many Inmates. The BPT estimates that about 6,500 foreign inmates are eligible for transfer. The BPT has successfully transferred 15 foreign inmates over the past three years. By comparison, the federal prison system—which has approximately the same number of total inmates (foreign and domestic) as California —has transferred 857 inmates over the same period. In part, California has transferred few inmates because its prisons contain a higher percentage of inmates who have committed violent crimes and are permanent residents of the United States , both factors that make inmates less likely to be considered suitable for the transfer program by BPT. However, our analysis indicates that California 's low transfer rate is also the result of several administrative issues that result in few inmate applications for transfer and delays in processing transfer cases. Each of these issues is described below.

Analyst's Recommendation. We recommend that the Legislature adopt supplemental report language requiring BPT to produce easy-to-read brochures about the transfer program that can be distributed to inmates. These brochures should be printed in multiple languages. We believe that the cost of these brochures can be absorbed by the department. In addition, we recommend that the supplemental report language instruct CDC and BPT to update their policies and procedures to maximize the effectiveness of this program. In particular, the CDC should update its operating manual. The following supplemental report language is consistent with these recommendations:

Item 5440-001-0001. No later than October 1, 2005, the Board of Prison Terms shall produce information brochures for the Foreign Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program in sufficient number to distribute to all incoming state prison inmates. These brochures shall be printed in English and Spanish, as well as any other languages the department believes appropriate.

Item 5240-001-0001. No later than October 1, 2005, the California Department of Corrections shall update its Operations Manual to include current state policies and procedures regarding the Foreign Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program.

Finally, we recommend that the Legislature authorize two program analyst positions and $110,000 in BPT to support the transfer program. This additional staff would allow BPT to investigate and process the increase in applications created by the above changes, as well as do more field training of CDC staff. We would note that using program analyst positions will be less expensive than investigators. Based on our discussions with the department, we think this classification is suitable to perform most casework duties in support of the current investigator position.

The above actions would result in state incarceration savings by generating more applications and allowing BPT to investigate and process more cases in less time. Therefore, we recommend that the Legislature reduce the CDC budget by $127,000 in the budget year, which represents a reduction of about 7 inmates for the full year. While the exact amount of long-run savings will depend on several factors, an increase of 25 inmate transfers each year, for example, would result in offsetting savings of about $1 million annually.

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