Wednesday, February 18, 2009
The sharp growth in illegal immigration and increased enforcement of immigration laws have dramatically altered the ethnic composition of offenders sentenced in federal courts. In 2007, Latinos accounted for 40 percent of all those convicted of federal crimes and one third of all federal prison inmates, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan think tank.
Nearly half of all Latino offenders, or about 48 percent, were convicted of immigration crimes. Drug offenses were the second-most prevalent charge among Latino federal convicts, according to the report, which was made public on Wednesday.
As the annual number of federal offenders more than doubled between 1991 and 2007, the number of Latino offenders sentenced in a given year nearly quadrupled, growing to 29,281 from 7,924. Latino convicts now represent the largest ethnic population in the federal prison system, although they make up only 13 percent of the United States population.
Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of four states bordering Mexico. Undocumented federal prisoners are usually deported to their home countries after serving their sentences.
“The immigration system has essentially become criminalized at a huge cost to the criminal justice system, to courts, to judges, to prisons, and prosecutors,” said Lucas Guttentag, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union. “And the government has diverted the resources of the criminal justice system from violent crimes, financial skullduggery and other areas that have been the traditional area of the Justice Department.”
Last month The New York Times reported that federal immigration prosecutions have increased over the last five years, doubling in the last fiscal year to reach more than 70,000 cases. Meanwhile other categories of federal prosecutions including gun trafficking, public corruption, organized crime and white-collar crime have declined over the past five years.
The federal justice system accounts for 200,000 or 8.6 percent of the total 2.3 million inmates in federal and state prisons and city and county jails. Nineteen percent of state prisoners and 16 percent of jail inmates were Latinos. African-Americans make up 39 percent of state prisoners and jail inmates while representing about 12 percent of the total national population.
Read full article here. [Brooks Holland]