- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger went a little off-script yesterday and floated a novel solution for his state’s overcrowded prison system:
"We pay them to build the prisons down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there in a prison. … And all this, it would be half the cost to build the prisons and half the cost to run the prisons," Schwarzenegger said, predicting it would save the state $1 billion that could be spent on higher education.
About 19,000 of the state’s 171,000 prisoners are illegal immigrants, according to the most recent statistics available online. The state spends more than $8 billion a year on the prison system.
Aaron McLear, spokesman for the governor, said later that Schwarzenegger’s comments did not represent a concrete proposal, but "a concept somebody mentioned to him" and he could not say where the governor came up with the $1 billion figure.
Aside from the troubling fact that Schwarnegger seems to have just made up the $1 billion figure and not consulted anyone before bringing up this idea, his timing is a bit unfortunate given that just five days ago 23 Mexican inmates were killed in a prison riot in Durango. Two other riots last year killed at least 20 inmates each. Here’s how the Los Angeles Times described the country’s penal system:
Mexican prisons have grown more crowded and dangerous as the government carries out a war against cartels, with more than 67,000 drug arrests in three years. The increased incarcerations have often created an incendiary mix by jamming members of rival gangs inside the same walls.
The penal facilities also have seen dramatic breakout attempts as drug gangs seek to rescue captured members, sometimes with success. In May, a convoy of men dressed in what appeared to be police uniforms cruised into a prison in the northern state of Zacatecas and calmly led 53 inmates to freedom as surveillance cameras rolled. Authorities said it was an inside job.
Yes, definitely sounds like a place that could use another 19,000 prisoners.