Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing concerning “Rising Prison Costs: Restricting Budgets and Crime Prevention Options,” a Webcast of which can be viewed here. In his statement, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt), author of the Second Chance Act, offered:
At a time when our economy has been struggling to recover from the worst recession in the last 75 years and governments’ budgets are limited, we must look at the wasteful spending that occurs with over-incarceration on the Federal and state levels. There is mounting evidence that building more prisons and locking people up for longer and longer – especially nonviolent offenders – is not the best use of taxpayer money, and is in fact an ineffective means of keeping our communities safe.
Between 1970 and 2010, the number of people incarcerated grew by 700 percent. The United States incarcerates almost a quarter of the prisoners in the entire world, even though we only have 5 percent of the world’s population. There are currently more than 1.6 million people in state and Federal prisons and more than 700,000 more in local jails. That means we incarcerate roughly one in every 100 adults.
At the Federal level, over the last five years, our prison budget has grown by nearly $2 billion. In 2007, we spent approximately $5.1 billion on Federal prisons. This year, the Federal Bureau of Prisons requested over $6.8 billion. That means less money for Federal law enforcement, less aid to state and local law enforcement, less funding for crime prevention programs and prisoner reentry programs. As we spend more to keep people locked up, we have less to spend on the kinds of programs that evidence has shown works best to keep crime rates down.
FAMM President Julie Stewart provided the Committee a written statement, and Marc Mauer, Executive Director of the Sentencing Project, submitted lengthy written testimony.