The idea was for states to rid their prisons early of non-violent immigrant convicts while helping the federal government close the books on potentially thousands of pending deportations. The Associated Press reports that implementing Rapid REPAT program has been anything but quick. Nearly four months have passed since Rhode Island became the first state to sign up for the program, which allows certain nonviolent immigrants to get out of prison early on the condition they never return to the U.S.
The state has yet to finish creating a way to find such inmates in the prison system. The first deportations are months away. The program drew criticism from civil liberties groups who feared immigrants might not understand the rights they were giving up. Officials said it’s a logical cost-cutting approach to reducing the state’s illegal immigrant population. Still, only about 5 percent of the inmate population under 4,000 were expected to qualify. Rapid REPAT was modeled after programs in New York and Arizona; federal officials said those initiatives have saved millions of dollars through early inmate release. In two years, about 2,600 immigrants in total were removed from both states. “Everything that we’re developing, we’re building from the ground up,” said Rhode Island corrections Director A.T. Wall. “Rhode Island doesn’t have this framework yet.”