Bed mandate keeps prisons full at taxpayer cost

According to the Washington Post, under the congressional directive known as the “bed mandate,” Homeland Security officials must keep an average of 34,000 detainees per day in custody. Established in 2006 by conservative lawmakers, this mandate was intended as a way to keep Homeland Security diligent in finding and holding illegal immigrants.

Meeting quota
As immigration levels have dropped during the recession, meeting the quota set by the bed mandate has been difficult. Enforcement officers have had to look through court information to find immigrants with a green card who were convicted of a crime that made them eligible for deportation. Traffic stops organized by local police have also been a way to find illegal immigrants to fill prison cells. Opponents of the bed mandate wonder why only U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is required to meet a prisoner quota.

“No other law-enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people that they must keep in jail,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., told Bloomberg. “Mandating ICE detain 34,000 individuals a day does not secure our borders or make us safer.”

Money matters
Though many who end up detained are later pardoned, critics of the bed mandate note that keeping people in prison is a significant cost to taxpayers. According to Bloomberg, one person in jail for one day comes at the price of $120. Many who are put in jail stay for several months.

Cost concerns have led the Obama Administration to suggest lowering the quota and enforcing other policies. One idea was to have arrested illegal immigrants wear a tracked ankle bracelet to ensure they make their court appearance. However, lawmakers turned down the proposal.

ICE officers were told in February that they were in violation of the mandate, as only 30,773 illegal immigrants were detained. The other 2,200 prisoners were released after the cost of keeping them proved too high.