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Reality Check: Importing prisoners on your dime

(WPMI) Reality Check: Importing prisoners on your dime
(WPMI) Reality Check: Importing prisoners on your dime

Millions of your tax dollars are spent importing prisoners, people who may have never set foot in the U.S. before their arrest.

In some cases, these accused drug smugglers are housed in our local jails and prosecuted in the federal court in Mobile, hundreds of miles away from where they were caught at sea.

Video NBC 15 News obtained shows the U.S. Coast Guard stopping drug smugglers last Christmas Eve with $30 million worth of cocaine in their tiny, 40 horsepower engine boat. This is not in the Gulf of Mexico. It's more than a thousand miles away from Mobile in the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Dominican Republic. All four suspects were brought to Mobile to be prosecuted. Attorney Jason Darley represented one suspect, a Dominican citizen.

"So you have a situation where on one hand you have the United States patrolling with a very long arm of the law, but on the other they're seeking to eliminate the flow of drugs," said Darley.

Congress allows the arrest of drug dealers almost anywhere in the ocean, even if the drugs aren't known to be headed for the United States.

According to the Coast Guard, on average it's captured 463 suspected smugglers each year for the past five years and brought them to the U.S. to stand trial. It costs $32,000 a year to incarcerate a federal inmate. If each person caught in those five years spent just one year in federal prison, that would cost taxpayers $70 million.

"There's an exorbitant cost, and that's what opponents of the drug war say is a problem with how much is spent prosecuting these cases," said Darley.

But many spend much more than that behind bars. The smugglers in this boat were sentenced collectively to nearly 58 years - a cost to you of $1.8 million.

"What happens after they serve the sentence?" asked NBC 15's Andrea Ramey.

"They're deported. They're not U.S. Citizens," replied Darley.

That's right. After spending all that money to jail these drug smugglers, they're sent right back to where they came from. It's a practice some attorneys argue should be re-evaluated.

"That money that you're spending housing this guy for 10 to 24 years - make some kind of program with those governments and when we return this guy you're prosecuting him," said attorney Dom Soto.

The Coast Guard Tuesday sent us this statement highlighting the importance of their mission and the purpose behind it:

"According to the CDC, more than 70,000 drug-related deaths occurred in the U.S. in 2017. Coast Guard cocaine interdictions at sea measure in the hundreds of thousands of pounds each year. During the past four years, the Coast Guard has removed more than 1.8 million pounds of pure cocaine from at-sea transit zones. The 457,000 pounds (208 metric tons) of cocaine interdicted by the Coast Guard in FY19 is equivalent to 4.81 billion individual doses. At-sea interdictions of pure cocaine are the most effective way to limit drug cartels from trafficking their entire spectrum of illicit products. In the past five years, the Coast Guard has transferred an average of 463 suspected smugglers to the Department of Justice annually for prosecution. This effort disrupts criminal networks by reducing their pools of skilled smugglers. Confronting drug smuggling is critical to our national security."