Assemblyman Brian Jones says his “wild idea” to build state prisons abroad to house immigrants convicted in California—and reduce overcrowding here—may not be so far-fetched after all.
“This idea was more hyperbole, but to my surprise it’s caught on and gotten national attention,” Jones is quoted as saying in a local Fox TV report. “I presented it as a wild idea and then found out maybe it’s not so wild.”
In a report posted Wednesday, Fox5 San Diego reporter James Koh wrote: “The assemblyman said that while his idea is interesting and a conversation starter he admitted he hasn't fleshed out the details to his plan quite yet.”
But Jones was quoted as saying: “The next step is to answer those questions: Is it more cost-effective, is it legal, and is it possible?”
The Santee Republican’s original remarks to Patch editors Oct. 21 were mocked by most of the nearly 2,200 comments on a Huffington Post story.
In a wide-ranging interview at a Starbucks in his hometown, Jones told Patch editors:
“Let’s build their prisons in their home countries and send them to those prisons. They’ll operate at a lot lower expense than being here in California. And let their home country take care of them.”
But experts are critical of the idea, including Ambassador Charles S. Shapiro, president of the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla.
“Regardless of whether or not it’s a good idea to build prisons in another country, it strikes me as politically impractical,” Shapiro said via email Thursday.
Shapiro, an expert in Latin American affairs, has been a diplomat since 1977 with postings in Chile, El Salvador and Denmark and was U.S. ambassador to Venezuela from 2002 to 2004. He also has been an adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Of the Jones idea, he said: “The United States would be building prisons to incarcerate people who would immediately be freed because they have not committed crimes in their home countries.
“In virtually every country in the world—including the United States—you can only be incarcerated for a crime committed in that country. The purpose of extradition treaties is to send people to the country where they have been indicted for a crime. This proposal would do the opposite.”
Within Jones’ own 77th Assembly District, the idea was questioned by Grossmont College Professor P.J. Ortmeier, coordinator of the Administration of Justice Department.
“Corrections, especially the incarceration of low-level property and drug offenders, is a multifaceted issue, and a very political one,” Ortmeier said last week. “Many ideas, whether they originate with Democrats or Republicans, are not based on facts, just political expediency (e.g., what will get votes).”
Shapiro of the La Jolla think tank said that unless California-built prisons also held their own nationals, “it is unlikely other countries would hire and pay for the guards. So we’d be building prisons that would be both unguarded and empty.”
“Mr. Jones obviously understands the California Legislature better than I do,” Shapiro conceded. “But it strikes me as unlikely that any state legislature or the U.S. Congress would be willing to appropriate money to build prisons in another country.”
Many comments on Huffington Post—an AOL sister site of Patch—played the idea for laughs or expressed outrage.
A commenter named xardvar said: “This idea is so insane it’s unbelievable.”
Said Igonracing: “If the facility is on foreign soil, it would be impossible to regulate to our standards for incarceration. There could be rampant issues of inhuman treatment; uncontrollable instances of bribery perhaps even up to possibility of staged escapes. ... It could even wind up that incarcerated cartel members would be the ones in control of the facilities … it has happened before in Colombia”
Said Dr Gachet: “That may be the stupidest, most ill-conceived, likely violation of international law and national sovereignty that I have ever had the misfortune of reading.”
Even fellow Republicans were doubtful about the Jones idea.
Wayne Miller, former GOP candidate in the 34th Congressional District in Los Angeles, told OneNewsNow.com:
“The economy being what it is, you’ve got a problem in that each and every dime [is] going to have to start being accounted for. Where is the money coming from? I still don’t see how we could enforce a situation [like this]. This starts bordering on problems with international law.”
Ironically, Jones’ idea isn’t even original.
In January 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters at the Sacramento Press Club that the state could save $1 billion by building and operating prisons in Mexico to house undocumented felons now imprisoned in California.
“We pay them to build the prisons down in Mexico and then we have those undocumented immigrants be down there in a prison,” the former governor was quoted as saying in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“And all this, it would be half the cost to build the prisons and half the cost to run the prisons,” Schwarzenneger said.
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor, later suggested that the foreign prisons idea was merely “a concept somebody mentioned to him.”