Send Virginia’s foreign prisoners home

Published 10:01 pm Friday, May 22, 2015

It’s not news that Virginia prisons are seriously overcrowded and continue to face budget shortages. What most people probably do not know, however, is that while our prisons suffer under these conditions, they also continue to pay for the incarceration of foreign prisoners.

What the heck are we doing paying for foreigners to be housed in Virginia prisons? We should be sending these foreign law-breakers back to serve their time in prisons in their own countries. This would save Virginia a lot of money, and it would ease Virginia’s prison overcrowding, as well.

There are no exact numbers as to how many non-citizen prisoners are being held in the Virginia Department of Corrections, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice, nationwide, 95,977 non-citizens were held in state custody in 2010. If Virginia has one 1/50th of that number, there would be about 2,000 foreign inmates in Virginia prisons.


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Now let’s see how much it costs to house those prisoners. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the average annual cost per inmate is $25,498. If there are 2,000 foreign prisoners here, Virginia spends around $50 million to incarcerate non-Americans.

This makes no sense. Why should we foot the bill for their crimes? Why don’t we send them back to their home countries and save the Virginia Department of Corrections a ton of money, while opening desperately needed space in our overcrowded prisons.

Returning these prisoners may not be that straightforward. Rules may need to be amended. The Department of Corrections will have to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Justice to get these prisoners deported. Then the D.O.J. will need to coordinate with each home country to have them repatriated. But we pay the employees of both the D.O.C. and D.O.J. so they can do things like this.

However bureaucratically complicated it might be, once all the forms are filled out and the institutional hurdles overcome, these foreign prisoners could be transferred to prisons in their home countries and barred from ever returning to the U.S. They would continue to be punished for their crimes. But Virginia would no longer foot the bill.

Some might think this is a soft-on-crime sleight of hand, but it’s not. These prisoners would not be set free. They would be sent to prisons in their home countries, which, in most cases, are tougher than those in the U.S.

Though it may be difficult to imagine, some of our prisons are like five-star hotels compared to the dungeons they have in other countries. By sending foreign prisoners back to serve their sentences in the rat holes they call prisons in their home countries, we are actually being tough on crime. Really tough.

This initiative would also be smart on crime. Very smart. We would be finding an intelligent, long-term solution to an ongoing problem. Best of all, the money we save by not having to incarcerate foreign prisoners could then be used to better serve citizens all across the state.

I am calling on Governor McAuliffe to wake up, smell the coffee, and send Virginia’s non-citizen prisoners back to their home countries. ASAP.

Douglas E. Morris has lived and worked in Virginia and around the world. Email him at