County Jail Inmate Subpopulations

Inmates with Immigration Detainers and Pregnant Inmates

By Tim Brown, County Information Senior Analyst

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Two unique subpopulations of jail inmates are inmates with immigration detainers and female inmates who are pregnant. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) began reporting on the number and cost of holding inmates with immigration detainers in late 2011 and began collecting information on the number of pregnant inmates from jails at the beginning of 2012. As of early December 2019, immigration detainer data runs through October 2019, while data on pregnant inmates available through November 2019.

Map 1 shows the number of inmates with immigration detainers by county as of Oct. 1, 2019. The map shows that, while the numbers somewhat follow the overall population trends, many of these inmates are located in relatively unpopulated areas such as the Panhandle and Permian Basin areas of West Texas, as well as in many rural counties in both Central and East Texas. 

Of course, the largest numbers appear in urban counties such as Harris (958) or Tarrant (344). On the border, Cameron, Hidalgo and Webb counties join the Over 100 club with 173, 502 and 186 inmates with immigration detainers, respectively. Travis (302), Bexar (285), Dallas (203), Denton (150), Collin (126), Montgomery (125) and El Paso (120) comprise the other counties with more than 100 inmates with immigration detainers at that time. On the other end of the spectrum, 91 counties reported no such inmates for Oct. 1, 2019. Of course, this only represents a snapshot of county jail inmates from a
single day. 

Chart 1 shows the total number of inmates with immigration detainers as of the first of each month from October 2011 through October 2019. The numbers fell for much of the period before climbing again in January 2016 – barring the anomalous dip in January 2017. More recently, the number of inmates seem to have stabilized in the 5,000 to 5,800 range, although the data for 2019 shows some significant volatility from month to month. 

Counties include the cost for housing inmates with immigration detainers in their reports, as is required by statute. Using the formula determined by TCJS, counties reported a total cost of $6.7 million in October 2019 for housing inmates with immigration detainers. This cost covers 4,936 inmates detained a total of 110,982 days during that month. 

Chart 2 shows the total cost for all reporting counties for each month from October 2011 to October 2019. This chart largely mirrors the data shown in Chart 1, but with a bit of added volatility.

Typically, smaller populations experience greater volatility, as found in Chart 3, which shows the monthly population of pregnant inmates from January 2011 through November 2019. While the volatility is not surprising, the overall downward trend in the total number of female inmates is unexpected. The chart includes a simple trend line showing a significant tendency for these numbers to decline over time. It is too early to say for certain, but it is likely that the increase occurring during 2019 is part of an annual cycle that rises early in the year and then drops off fairly quickly over the last month or two of the year before repeating the next year. 

Given the overall decline, one might wonder if the decline in
the number of pregnant inmates is occurring in both jails operated by counties and those operated by private companies. Chart 4 shows the number of pregnant inmates held in jails operated only by private companies. Surprisingly, the trend line for this segment of the subpopulation is actually increasing rather than decreasing for the total number of pregnant inmates. 

It appears that there was a fairly rapid increase from 2012 to 2014, followed by an even more rapid decline in 2015, and then a steady increase from 2016 through November 2019. The possibility exists that December 2019 may follow the apparent annual cycle and show a decrease as can be seen in most of the prior years. For now though, the trend for 2019 demonstrates possible continued growth.

One reason for growth in the number of pregnant inmates in privately operated jails might be the small population size — as previously mentioned, smaller populations tend to show greater variability than larger populations. Another reason for this increase may be related to privately operated jails containing a different mix of inmates based on whose prisoners they are holding under contract. According to the TCJS’s Abbreviated Population Report for Oct. 1, 2019, jails run by private companies held 6.5% of the total number of inmates in county jails, yet these same jails accounted for 43.5% of the total number of jail inmates held under contract as seen in Table 1. 

While 43.5% seems high, this actually represents a decrease from October 2011 when 63.9% of all inmates held under contract were in jails run by private companies, as seen in Table 2. 

These reports do not distinguish how many, if any, pregnant inmates were held under contract. However, the total number of inmates held under contract in all jails fell 10.1% from October 2011 to October 2019, while the number of local inmates, those not held under contract, rose by 4.3% for a total population gain of 2.3%. Meanwhile, total capacity in privately operated jails fell by almost 5,700 from October 2011 to October 2019 while the capacity of county-operated jails increased by more than 4,900.

Reporting shows that the number of inmates held on immigration detainers, while both cyclical and volatile, has decreased slightly statewide, although the data for 2019 has been highly variable making any trend line including the most recent data suspect. TCJS data shows a much clearer trend in the declining number of pregnant inmates statewide. However, the data for jails operated by private companies shows a clear and potentially troubling increase in the number of pregnant inmates even as the total number of inmates held by these institutions has decreased significantly.