The percentage of illegal immigrant inmates in the Utah prison system has remained relatively stable over the last few years, according to corrections statistics presented to a legislative panel today.

"It fluctuates from 4.7 to 5.26 percent of the (prison) population," said Cliff Butter of the Utah Department of Corrections. "It's pretty stable."

Speaking Wednesday to the Interim Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, Butter said there were 337 inmates in the state system on May 19 who weren't U.S. citizens, and most of those had federal detainers to be deported on release. While the federal government provides some reimbursement, it doesn't come close to the up to $8 million it costs to house illegal immigrants in prison each year.

Curtis Garner, chairman of the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole, said that immigrant inmates are typically treated the same as anyone else when they are up for parole. He added that Immigration and Customs enforcement has gotten better at identifying and picking up illegal immigrants for deportation upon release. About seven or eight former offenders are reincarcerated each year.

Lawmakers expressed frustration that Steve Branch of ICE couldn't testify because of federal regulations. One question that arose centered around what happens to deportable immigrants when there is no deportation agreement with their country of origin, such as Cuba.

"It's been my experience they end up back on our streets — as illegals," Garner said.