The U.S. prison system is already pretty good at tearing families apart, but in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is exploring uncharted territory in prisoner exile. According to the San Francisco Chronicle
, speaking before the Sacramento Press Club on Monday, the governor suggested that the state’s economic emergency might be offset by shipping prisoners off to Mexico.
Schwarzenegger, who recently announced his intention to privatize California’s dangerously bloated prison system, evidently sees shipping prisoners south of the border as a win-win when it comes to his immigration headaches. Citing the sizable population of undocumented immigrants behind bars in California, the governor briefly described his idea:
"We pay them to build the prisons down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there in a prison. … And all this, it would be half the cost to build the prisons and half the cost to run the prisons," Schwarzenegger said, predicting it would save the state $1 billion that could be spent on higher education.
The remarks were met with confusion by state officials, not only because they were, well, confusing, but because it seemed to be the first time anyone had heard about the idea. Apparently, his own spokesman did not know where exactly Schwarzenegger came up with it -- he described it as "a concept somebody mentioned to him" -- and Matthew Cate, secretary of California's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said there were no plans in the works to transfer prisoners to Mexico.
This is a relief, considering the dire implications for Californians with family members and loved ones in prison. According to the Chronicle
, some 19,000 of the state's 171,000 prisoners are undocumented immigrants. Assuming many of them have some chance of release, they would clearly not be allowed back into the United States. It would amount to deportation via the criminal justice system. (Something the government, admittedly, is already pretty much doing
Various states already expel prisoners across U.S. state lines and more seem to be following suit; Last fall, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill into law
that would allow prisoners to be sent out of state, and in December, Pennsylvania announced
it would send 2,000 inmates to Virginia and Michigan in order to reduce overcrowding. The vast majority of exported prisoners are sent to private prisons.
One critic, Donald Specter, who heads up the Prison Law Office, has called
Schwarzenegger’s idea "not very practical."
"It would be like the state of California having a separate island of its own government in Mexico. It just seems like that would be impossible.”
A prison guard union spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association added that "there is no obligation from a sovereign nation to incarcerate and rehabilitate individuals who have not committed crimes within their borders."
Read the full story here