Suppose you are a foreign national serving a prison sentence in the U.S., either state or federal prison, or an American citizen serving time in a foreign prison. In that case, you may be eligible for a prison transfer under the International Prisoner Transfer Program (IPTP).
Sometimes also called the International Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program, this program is a significant component of international law enforcement cooperation. A prison transfer of this nature allows you to serve your sentence closer to home, ensuring a support system that aids your rehabilitation process.
Having a loved one in prison is challenging enough for a family, but it's even more complicated when incarcerated in a foreign country. Thus, the International Prisoner Transfer Treaty Program might be able to help you.
This program allows the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of State (DOS) to transfer foreign prisoners to their home countries and seek to transfer Americans detained abroad to serve their sentences.
The International Prisoner Transfer Program started after Congress passed legislation to authorize it. Thus, the federal government began negotiating treaties with other countries.
The United States has transfer treaties with 83 countries, and there are bilateral treaties with 11 governments as part of multilateral conventions, including Bolivia, Canada, France, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, the Republic of Palau, Panama, Peru, Thailand, and Turkey.
The multilateral conventions are the Council of Europe (COE) Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons and the Inter-American Convention on Serving Criminal Sentences Abroad.
The primary purpose of this program was to allow the United States to transfer prisoners (state or federal prison) back to their home countries and to bring home U.S. citizens that were convicted abroad to serve their sentences here. Let's explore the IPTP in more detail.
What Are the Origins of the IPTP?
The International Prisoner Transfer Program was initiated in 1977. The U.S. Congress passed enabling legislation that allowed the U.S. to negotiate and establish a series of treaties with other countries.
This legislation is now embodied in Title 18, Chapter 306 of the U.S. Code. These treaties facilitate the transfer of prisoners between the U.S. and other participating nations. The program's primary aim was to allow foreign prisoners to return to their home countries and for U.S. citizens imprisoned abroad to return to the U.S. to serve the remainder of their sentences.
This was seen as beneficial for rehabilitating these individuals, as they would be returned to familiar social and cultural environments. Over time, the program has expanded and now includes treaties with more than 80 countries worldwide.
What Is the Purpose and Impact of the IPTP?
The IPTP effectively serves two purposes:
- Allows foreign inmates to serve their sentence in their respective home countries. Being in a familiar environment, surrounded by their culture, language, and family, can be crucial in an offender's rehabilitation journey.
- Simplifies the incarceration process. The IPTP seeks to alleviate the administrative burdens associated with foreign incarceration. These burdens include communication barriers, cultural differences, and logistical challenges regarding visitation rights and legal representation.
The impact of the program goes beyond the individual prisoner. It extends to their families, who no longer have to bear the financial and emotional strain of long-distance travel for visitations.
Furthermore, it benefits the prison systems of participating countries by potentially reducing overcrowding and fostering international cooperation and mutual understanding in corrections.
What Are the Eligibility Criteria for IPTP?
Inmates seeking a treaty transfer must meet a relatively broad range of eligibility requirements. These requirements include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The inmate must be a citizen of the country they wish to transfer to;
- The country in question must have a treaty relationship with the U.S. permitting the transfer;
- The inmate must have at least six months remaining in their sentence;
- The inmate cannot have committed a military or political offense;
- The inmate cannot have been sentenced to death.
Additional criteria exist for inmates of Mexican origin incarcerated in the U.S., namely:
- They cannot be serving a life sentence; and
- Unless exceptions apply, they cannot have a conviction for an immigration violation.
The different groups of prisoners who are eligible for the International Treaty Transfer Program include the following:
- Foreign nationals in U.S. federal prisons;
- Foreign nationals in U.S. state prisons;
- Americans in foreign prisons.
The international prisoner transfer treaty approval process is straightforward.
Once the request has been made, if the inmate satisfies the criteria for the transfer, they will be scheduled for verification of consent hearing with a magistrate judge.
The judge and the inmate have to agree or disagree with the transfer at that time. When an inmate consents, the foreign country will be notified, and the transfer is scheduled.
An inmate can't transfer unless the U.S. and foreign countries approve the request. Suppose the request is denied. In that case, the inmate could re-apply for a transfer two years after the denial.
Notably, however, this only applies if the United States denies the inmate. If the inmate's home country rejected the request, then the inmate would need to discuss the situation with their consulate.
What Are the Related Federal Laws?
18 U.S. Code Chapter 306 Transfer to or from foreign countries has several federal statutes that are related to the International Prisoner Transfer Program (IPTP), including the following:
- 18 U.S.C. 4100 - Scope and limitation of chapter;
- 18 U.S.C. 4101 – Definitions;
- 18 U.S.C. 4102 - Authority of the Attorney General;
- 18 U.S.C. 4103 - Applicability of United States laws;
- 18 U.S.C. 4104 - Transfer of offenders on probation;
- 18 U.S.C. 4105 - Transfer of offenders serving a prison sentence;
- 18 U.S.C. 4106 - Transfer of offenders on parole;
- 18 U.S.C. 4107 - Verification of consent to transfer from the U.S;
- 18 U.S.C. 4108 - Verification of consent to transfer to the U.S.;
- 18 U.S.C. 4109 - Right to counsel, appointment of counsel;
- 18 U.S.C. 4110 - Transfer of juveniles;
- 18 U.S.C. 4111 - Prosecution barred by foreign conviction;
- 18 U.S.C. 4112 - Loss of rights, disqualification;
- 18 U.S.C. 4113 - Status of alien offender transferred to a foreign country:
- 18 U.S.C. 4114 - Return of transferred offenders;
- 18 U.S.C. 4115 - Execution of sentences imposing an obligation to make restitution or reparations.
How Can You Apply for Treaty Transfer Under the IPTP?
One key factor in international prisoner transfers is the inmate's desire to be transferred. Treaty transfer isn't the right choice for everyone.
For example, you might want to be closer to the family at home, but if the sentence for your crime is shorter in the country where you're incarcerated, you might choose to stay where you are.
You must determine whether applying for a transfer is in your best interests. If you apply for a transfer, you may be allowed to accept or decline the transfer to ensure you willingly participate.
If you're eligible for a treaty transfer, both countries must approve the request—so you'll apply for the transfer in the U.S. and the other country. Each country has its application process, but in the U.S., the transfer application process under the IPTP involves a series of steps as follows:
- Submitting the application. You'll fill out an application and questionnaire, and your attorney submits it to the International Prisoner Transfer Unit (IPTU) within the US Department of Justice.
- Review and determination. The IPTU reviews the application to ensure it meets all requirements and determines whether to approve or deny the request.
- Notifying the other government. The IPTU will notify the other government of the approval to transfer you and await their confirmation.
- Final approval. The other country approves or denies the transfer
- Consent Verification Hearing (CVH). You'll appear before a magistrate who will confirm that you are giving your consent to be transferred.
- Physical transfer. If both countries approve and you have confirmed your consent, you'll return to custody in the U.S. while final plans are made for your transfer.
Once a transfer request is initiated, then case processing will begin. Three United States government officials with the Office of International Affairs (OIA) can make the final transfer decision.
If the OIA approves the request, the prisoner's home country will be notified and determine whether they will support the transfer.
Suppose the home country approves the request. In that case, the International Prisoner Transfer Treaty request will proceed through the rest of the approval process until the transfer is scheduled and completed.
Applying for a transfer under IPTP is complicated and requires patience. For the best results in getting approved, seek help from a qualified federal criminal defense attorney who can help coordinate your application and the transfer process.
This process can be challenging, especially when incarcerated in a foreign country. Simply put, you will need experienced legal counsel seeking international transfer program approval. You can contact us for a case review by phone or through the contact form. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.