Tag: criminals

FAIR SCAAP Crime Report Has Many Serious Problems

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) recently released a report on illegal immigrant incarceration rates that is poorly contrived and terribly executed.  FAIR uses the number of illegal immigrants counted under the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which compensates local and state governments for incarcerating some illegal immigrants, to calculate the illegal immigrant incarceration rate.  FAIR finds that illegal immigrants, as measured by the number of SCAAP aliens, are incarcerated at much higher rates than natives and legal immigrants according to their faulty methods. 

There are many problems with FAIR’s report. 

The first problem is that it doesn’t state what year or period of years that it is analyzing.  I can’t even work backward because their citations only indicate when they accessed the relevant data, not which annual data they accessed.  This means that it would take many dozens of hours of guesswork to recreate their work.

The second problem with using SCAAP data is that they are the oddest crime data.  The SCAAP aliens are a measure of the stock and flow of illegal immigrants into state and local correctional facilities over a year.  SCAAP is used to compensate local communities and states for the costs of incarcerating some illegal immigrants, it is not designed to be used to estimate illegal immigrant incarceration rates.  As a result, the normal operation of dividing the number of prisoners who are in SCAAP by the stock of all prisoners to calculate a rate is not useful here because the proper denominator is the stock of the prison population at the beginning of a year plus the number of people admitted throughout the rest of that year.  However, FAIR uses just the stock of the population in state prisons at the end of the year plus estimates from a private group for the number of people incarcerated in local facilities.  FAIR does not add the flow to the stock to estimate a proper denominator. 

As a result, there is no correct way to use SCAAP data to estimate incarceration rates because there is not a similar number published by the government that can serve as a denominator.  Using the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), one can estimate a flow plus stock denominator for some years without eliminating the significant problem of overcounting.  Although I caution against drawing a lesson from this back of the envelope calculation, Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times piqued my curiosity and I could not resist.  This is the only way to use SCAAP data to estimate illegal immigrant incarceration rates in state prisons.  

My back of the envelope calculation uses only the state-level incarceration numbers and excludes the number of local SCAAP prisoners and people jailed on the local level.  This is because the BJS does not collect the local numbers and they are not available for many years.  The number of illegal immigrants nationwide comes from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) while the number of non-illegal immigrants (legal immigrants and native-born Americans) comes from the American Community Survey.  I merely divided the number of SCAAP aliens nationwide who were incarcerated and who entered state correctional facilities by the number of illegal immigrants nationwide in each year.  I then compared that rate to the same rate for non-illegal immigrants who were in correctional institutions that year or that entered them.  Lastly, I presented the figure per 100,000 for each subpopulation because that is common in the crime literature.

Figure 1 shows the nationwide results: Illegal immigrants in the SCAAP program are incarcerated at a lower rate than non-illegal immigrants.  Just to reiterate, this is back-of-the-envelope calculation with significant problems.  It excludes all prisoners incarcerated on the federal and local levels.  There is a lot of double counting.  SCAAP does not count all illegal immigrants.  The non-illegal immigrant number is a combination of legal immigrants and native-born Americans, which makes the latter look more peaceful and the former more dangerous than they really are.  These figures underestimate the incarceration rates for illegal immigrants and non-illegal immigrants

 

Figure 1
Illegal Immigrants and Non-Illegal Immigrant SCAAP-Adjusted Incarceration Rates, Per 100,000

 

Sources: Bureau of Justice Statistics, American Community Survey, and the Department of Homeland Security.

Note: The per 100,000 is for each subpopulation. 

 

The SCAAP figures are not refined enough to use for estimating an illegal immigrant incarceration rate because there is not a good enough denominator available.  However, using the best data and methods available still shows that the nation-wide incarceration rate for SCAAP aliens is below that of non-illegal immigrants – which includes native-born Americans and legal immigrants.  FAIR’s report is a prime example of poor scholarship, but the authors are only partly to blame.  The lack of adequate crime and incarceration data make such desperate attempts tempting.  

The Migrant Caravan Probably Doesn’t Contain Many Criminals

One concern about the caravan of Central American migrants making its way to the U.S. border is that it may contain criminals. Although we don’t know the identities or criminal histories of the actual people in the caravan, we can get an indication by looking at estimates of the incarceration rates of immigrants in the United States who come from the Central American countries where the caravan originated.

Hondurans are likely the largest contingent in the caravan. The Honduran incarceration rate in the United States was 1,130 per 100,000 Hondurans in 2016 (Figure 1). The incarceration rate of native-born Americans is about 25 percent higher than for those born in Honduras at 1,498 per 100,000 natives. In 2016, the incarceration rate for immigrants from all of Mexico and Central America is about 35 percent below that of native-born Americans. 

Figure 1: Incarceration Rate by Nationality of Birth Per 100,000, Ages 18-54, 2016

Figure 1 controls for the size of the population to create a meaningful comparison of incarceration rates between the national-origin groups. For instance, the incarceration rate for American natives is 1,498 per 100,000 American natives and the Mexican incarceration rate is 996 per 100,000 Mexican-born residents in the United States. The incarceration rate for all immigrants from Mexico and Central America was 970 per 100,000 immigrants from that part of the world.    

The data for the estimates in this blog come from the 2016 American Community Survey (ACS). These are estimates from the group quarters population for those aged 18-54. Figure 1 is an estimate because not all inmates in group quarters are in correctional facilities. Most inmates in the public-use microdata version of the ACS are in correctional facilities, but the data also include those in mental health and elderly care institutions and in institutions for people with disabilities. As a result, we narrowed the age range to 18-54 to exclude most of those in mental health and retirement facilities. 

Commenting on the likely criminality of members in the migrant caravan based on the incarceration rates of their co-nationals in the United States is not fully satisfying. People in the migrant caravan could be more crime-prone than their fellow countrymen in the United States, for instance. However, the incarceration rates of their fellow countrymen in the United States at least provide some evidence to cut through the political statements made without any evidence.    

Most of the members of the caravan will likely seek asylum in the United States while the others will try to enter unlawfully. The government will vet the asylum-seekers to identify serious criminals and national security threats. However, it is impossible to vet those who enter as illegal immigrants – which is one of the better arguments for allowing them to enter legally as they would then be subject to vetting.

Special thanks to Michelangelo Landgrave from crunching many of the numbers for this post.

New Report on Illegal Immigrant Criminality Reveals Little & Admits Its Own Shortcomings

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) today released a report that found that about 94 percent of foreign-born inmates in Federal prisons are illegal immigrants.  That is not surprising, as illegal immigrants convicted of an immigration offense are incarcerated in federal prison and account 7.3 percent of all inmates.  Likewise, drug traffickers who cross international borders are also in federal prison and account 46.3 percent of all prisoners.  Thus, illegal immigrants are overrepresented in federal prison because the federal government enforces immigration laws and many drug trafficking laws but only a small fraction of all those incarcerated for all crimes committed in the U.S. are in federal prisons. 

The authors of this DHS/DOJ report do deserve credit for highlighting its shortcomings.  On the first page, it states:

This report does not include data on the foreign-born or alien populations in state prisons and local jails because state and local facilities do not routinely provide DHS or DOJ with comprehensive information about their inmates and detainees.  This limitation is noteworthy because state and local facilities account for approximately 90 percent of the total U.S. incarcerated population.

The federal prison population is not representative of incarcerated populations on the state and local level, so excluding them from the report means that it sheds little light on nationwide incarcerations by nativity, legal status, or type of crime.  On the last point, it is shocking how unrepresentative federal prison is regarding the types of crimes its inmates are convicted of. In 2016, 67,742 people were sentenced to federal prison.  Almost 30 percent of them were for immigration offenses.  Those immigration convictions comprised 100 percent of the convictions for immigration crimes in the United States in 2016.  By contrast, there were only 85 federal convictions for murder out of a nationwide total of 17,785 murder convictions that year, comprising less than 0.5 percent of all murders.