Foreign Criminals Who Could Be Shipped Home Cost Taxpayers Millions

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

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Taxpayers are shelling out millions each year to house an increasing number of foreign criminals in U.S. federal prisons because their home countries won’t take them back.

Federal prisons are housing more than 40,000 non-U.S. citizens from 79 countries that participate in the International Prison Transfer Program, in which eligible and willing inmates can serve out the rest of their time behind bars in their homeland.

Used correctly, the treaty should ease prison overcrowding and save taxpayers millions of dollars, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General said in a report made public Thursday.

Treaty nations refused to take 959 transfer-approved foreign inmates from 2011 to 2013, costing U.S. taxpayers $26 million.

Federal inmates from the 97 treaty nations number roughly 43,000, and account for one in five federal prisoners, according to the IG. That number is on the rise. Federal prisons housed 10,000 fewer inmates from treaty nations a decade ago. Less than one percent of those inmates from transfer treaty nations — 0.6 percent — go home, partly because nations like Canada and Mexico in particular often refuse to take their criminals back.

“It really comes down to a question of numbers,” DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a statement. “Transferring more foreign national prisoners to serve the remainder of their sentence in their home country would not only help reduce overcrowding in the federal prison system, but also lower costs.”

The DOJ reviews inmates from treaty nations who request a transfer, and approves them if a transfer wouldn’t thwart justice for a victim’s family or endanger the public, among other requirements.

DOJ-approved Mexican inmates, who make up 54 percent of the DOJ-approved population, are costing the U.S. $7.2 million a year, according to the IG. DOJ-approved inmates from Honduras, who make up 16 percent of the approved population, cost the U.S. $2.1 million a year, and DOJ-approved inmates from Canada make up 7 percent of that approved population and cost the U.S. $900,000 a year.

Mexican officials often deny transfers because they say their prisons are overcrowded too, the IG says.

The IG said “there are no enforcement measures within transfer treaties.”

But federal prison officials can’t blame everything on foreign countries. The IG placed some of the blame on the DOJ bureaucracy slowing down the system. The IG said the Bureau of Prisons should encourage more eligible prisoners to apply for transfers, and high-level DOJ officials need to negotiate transfers.

The IG issued a similar report on the DOJ’s prison transfer involvement in 2011, and, while the DOJ now does a better job informing eligible foreign prisoners of their options, not much else has changed, the IG noted.

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