This fiscal year immigration officials are detaining more people across the country in local jails and private prisons than they did last year.
Typically, the government must detain people before deporting them. The average number of people in immigration detention on any given day nationally increased by 17 percent from fiscal year 2016 to fiscal year 2017, according to data obtained by KQED through a Freedom of Information Act request. Data are only available for the first part of fiscal year 2017 from October 3, 2016 to March 20, 2017. The federal government's fiscal year begins in October.
We can see that ICE has far more contracts with local county and city jails to hold people than with private companies. However, jails can hold only so many people because they're often smaller than private prisons, and regular jail populations can vary drastically. So, although there are more local jails holding detainees, there are far more detainees in privately operated prisons. When we adjust for population, we can see how many more detainees are in private prisons.
Data show that over the last few months ICE has increasingly relied on private detention, where it's generally cheaper to incarcerate people.
Between October 2016 and March 2017 the government signed additional contracts to detain people in eight new private facilities, seven new county jails and one new city jail. It also ended 28 contracts. However, most of those were with county jails that had not held detainees for years.
In March, ICE had contracts to hold people in:
- 44 private prisons
- 153 local jails
- Five of its own facilities
As of March 20, 2017, about two-thirds of detainees were held in privately operated prisons.
The number of detainees is also increasing because of new policies to automatically detain more people. And those people are being detained longer, as more people go into immigration court.
Despite hiring 45 new immigration judges since January, the court's backlog continues to grow, according to data from Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. As of June, it took an average of 667 days to close a case.
In the first four months of the Trump presidency, immigration officers arrested 38 percent more people than in the same period last year.
Both immigration officials and advocates expect detention populations to continue to increase as more people are arrested, more people are automatically detained and the immigration court backlog increases.
Julie Small contributed to this report.