Alternatives to Detention

Rather than reduce detention, punitive alternatives such as ankle monitors have expanded the number of people under government surveillance

Community based alternatives through case management. Image credit: Jamila Hammami

Alternatives to detention encompass a wide range of mechanisms used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ostensibly to provide assurance that someone who is not detained will fully participate in their immigration court proceedings. ICE’s official alternatives or conditions of release include:

  • Parole/release on own recognizance
  • Bond
  • Check-ins at ICE offices
  • Home visits and check-ins
  • Telephonic monitoring
  • GPS monitoring through an electronic ankle bracelet

Additionally, a new pilot program for families assigns immigrant women with children to a caseworker for support with their immigration proceedings.

Nearly all of these (excluding bond and parole) are sub-contracted out to subsidiaries of The GEO Group, Inc. (GEO), a private prison company. Behavioral Interventions (BI), a subsidiary of GEO, has administered other alternatives through a program called the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (ISAP) since 2004. ICE awarded the new pilot program contract for families to GEO Care, another GEO subsidiary, in 2015.

Private bail bonds companies also make money off the imposition of bond, which can be set by either ICE or an immigration judge. Since neither ICE nor judges are required to consider an individual’s ability to pay when setting the bond, bonds are often exorbitantly high. Because immigration courts are so backlogged—with hundreds of thousands of cases pending and court dates being set for five years out—the high interest rates and monthly fees quickly become predatory.

Parole should be more widely used, and current policy suggests it would apply to nearly everyone who makes it through the initial eligibility screening for asylum. Instead, since late 2014, this policy has been increasingly ignored, leading to the long-term detention of many asylum-seekers, or more punitive conditions of release like very high bond or ankle monitors.

Other potential alternatives include ensuring that someone has legal representation and providing community based support by organizations with proven experience delivering social services for immigrant communities. Although some non-profits are creating these kinds of post-release support, they are not currently included in the official alternatives administered by the government.

As a basic litmus test for whether or not they are being used correctly, alternatives must always decrease the number of people in detention. Instead, as ICE’s budget for alternatives to detention has increased, so has its budget for detention.