Utah's incarcerated illegal-immigrant population averaged between 6 percent and 9 percent of the entire prison and jail population over a nine-year span, according to a new report unveiled at a state commission meeting Monday.
Charlie Morgan, a sociology professor at Ohio University, presented the report through Skype to the Utah Commission on Immigration and Migration. He said he is in the process of submitting his study for publication in the journal Criminology and Public Policy at Florida State University.
The presentation came as a result of the commission's effort to gather data about illegal immigration and follow its charge to guide the Legislature on proposed bills related to the subject.
Morgan, a former professor of sociology at Brigham Young University, said he'd already been working on the report for three years when he was asked by the commission to present his findings.
"It seemed like it would be easy," Morgan said. "But the more I got into it, the more difficult the question had become."
According to the 20-page report, there were 14,000 people in county jails and state prisons. In that number, he also included people whose criminal charge stemmed from Utah courts but who were serving time in a federal prison outside the state.
He also singled out the Utah County Jail, which works under a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to house illegal immigrants.
In the report, Morgan discovered there was an average of 195 illegal immigrants being held in the jail on an annual basis. On average, 40 of those were being held on a criminal charges.
The report also includes data from the Weber County Jail, despite that facility losing its contract last year with the federal government to be reimbursed for housing illegal immigrants.
That jail, which until that point averaged housing 62 detainees annually, lost the contract after an investigation revealed it wasn't in compliance with federal standards.
With the Pew Hispanic Center estimating Utah's illegal immigration population at 110,000, Morgan's report also concluded there wasn't a correlation between illegal-immigration trends and crime statistics that some have pinned on that group.
Because the Pew Hispanic Center also found Latinos account for 81 percent of all illegal immigration nationally, Morgan looked at that data specifically in his report.
In his analysis, he noted there was an increase of about 300 Latinos per 10,000 Utahns in 1978 to more than 1,100 Latinos per 10,000 Utahns in 2008.
In that ratio, Morgan found the violent-crime rate decreased from 272 crimes per 100,000 Utahns in 1978 to 224 crimes per 100,000 Utahns in 2008.
"We can therefore presume that the rise in Hispanics does not coincide with a rise in violent crimes," Morgan wrote in the report. "In other words, Utahns are safer now than they ever have been in the past three decades."