WASHINGTON – The state and six counties will get $3.2 million in federal funds for jailing criminal illegal aliens last year, but 17 other counties won’t get a dime — because they did not apply.
“We put out the solicitation and encouraged them to apply,” said James Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Office of Justice Programs. “Falling short of backing up a truck and pouring money into every jurisdiction in the country — saying they can do anything they want with it — that’s all we can do.”
The Department of Justice split a $575 million pot between state and local governments who kept criminal aliens last year and asked to be reimbursed under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program.
Maryland counties that did not apply for the funding said they were not aware of SCAAP or said they had no way of knowing which of their inmates might have been in this country illegally.
“A lot of times you spend a lot of time doing the paperwork and there is not enough money to really justify it,” said Richard Baker, superintendent of the Anne Arundel Department of Detention Facilities.
But Frederick County officials said they are looking forward to their first SCAAP check, even though it is only for $3,996. The county housed five criminal illegal aliens in its 400-bed jail in 1997-98.
“This year we decided to give it a closer look,” said Maj. Robert Green, Frederick corrections bureau chief. “In this very fiscally prudent time, we feel it’s our absolute duty to research any programs that will bring in some money.”
Payments in Maryland this year range from $3,185 for Harford County to $2.5 million for the state, which includes the Baltimore City Detention Center.
To apply, jurisdictions submit the names of foreign-born inmates who have been convicted of a felony or two misdemeanors under state or local law and sentenced to more than 72 hours in prison.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service checks the names against its database to determine if the individual is an undocumented alien. If so, SCAAP reimburses the jurisdiction at a set percentage of the daily cost per inmate, which is reported by the local jurisdiction.
INS insists that it does not use SCAAP to track down individuals to deport. It does use the information to provide a pattern of criminal activity by aliens, said John Bjerke, the INS contact for SCAAP.
The program does not cover costs for housing detainees whose immigration status is being reviewed by the INS. Those costs are covered by contracts between the INS and the individual facility.
The theory behind the payments, said SCAAP coordinator Linda McKay, is that the federal government should have kept the illegal aliens out of the country in the first place.
“It’s recognition of the federal responsibility,” she said.
As in Maryland, she said, response to the program nationwide has been limited.
“There are approximately 3,200 localities who had jails … and we sent applications to all of them in 1996 and 1997,” McKay said. “In 1998, we just sent a postcard asking if they wanted to apply.”
While twice as many Maryland counties applied in 1998 as in 1997, some of the state’s larger facilities did not apply.
A Baltimore County detention center official said a disconnect between the tracking systems at the jail and the police department make it impossible to compile the necessary statistics.
“We don’t have the resources to be able to track whether an inmate is foreign-born,” said Sharon Tyler, a management assistant at Baltimore County Bureau of Corrections. “We’re not on central booking, so the police would be better able to identify that.”
She hopes Baltimore County will be able to apply next year, but cannot predict how much it might receive.
“We’re willing to do anything if anyone wants to pay for us to house prisoners, for whatever reason,” she said.
A Howard County Detention Center official said he was vaguely aware of SCAAP, but he did not think his facility qualified.
“I understand there’s probably funds like that, but we don’t have any [foreign- born prisoners] at the moment,” said Ken Watts, program supervisor at the Howard County Detention Center.
But Frederick and Cecil counties welcomed the opportunity to be reimbursed for their handful of inmates who were illegal aliens.
Frederick County officials said they funded about $200,000 of their $7.2 million jail budget with grants like the $3,996 it will get from SCAAP.
Cecil County Director of Detention Daniel Mayhan said he is “looking forward to seeing the money ($5,998) rolling in” to his county’s 150-bed facility.
Since the program began in 1995, Maryland has garnered more than $8.5 million. In three years, Montgomery County secured $831,892, while Prince George’s County recouped $640,980 in two years.
“The (SCAAP) program is getting bigger, and it was brought to our attention this year,” said Denise Thomas, records administrator for the Harford County jail, which received $3,185. “I’m just surprised more counties don’t do it.”