Articles Posted in Overcrowding

After a day of meetings with incarcerated clients, I returned to my computer to find news of a just issued report from the General Accounting Office, Bureau of Prisons: Growing Inmate Crowding Negatively Affects Inmates, Staff, and Infrastructure. As set forth in the Highlights:


What GAO Found
The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) 9.5 percent population growth from fiscal years 2006 through 2011 exceeded the 7 percent increase in its rated capacity, and BOP projects continued population growth. Growth was most concentrated among male inmates, and in 2011, 48 percent of the inmates BOP housed were sentenced for drugs. From fiscal years 2006 through 2011, BOP increased its rated capacity by about 8,300 beds as a result of opening 5 new facilities and closing 4 minimum security camps, but because of the population expansion, crowding (or population in excess of rated capacity) increased from 36 to 39 percent. In 2011 crowding was most severe (55 percent) in highest security facilities. BOP’s 2020 long-range capacity plan projects continued growth in the federal prison population from fiscal years 2012 through 2020, with system-wide crowding exceeding 45 percent through 2018.
Triple-bunk-preview
A Triple-Bunked Cell in a BOP Facility
According to BOP, the growth in the federal inmate population has negatively affected inmates, staff, and infrastructure, but BOP has acted within its authority to help mitigate the effects of this growth. BOP officials reported increased use of double and triple bunking, waiting lists for education and drug treatment programs, limited meaningful work opportunities, and increased inmate-to-staff ratios. These factors, taken together, contribute to increased inmate misconduct, which negatively affects the safety and security of inmates and staff. BOP officials and union representatives voiced concerns about a serious incident occurring. To manage its growing population, BOP staggers meal times and segregates inmates involved in disciplinary infractions, among other things.
The five states in GAO’s review have taken more actions than BOP to reduce their prison populations, because these states have legislative authority that BOP does not have. These states have modified criminal statutes and sentencing, relocated inmates to local facilities, and provided inmates with additional opportunities for early release. BOP generally does not have similar authority. For example, BOP cannot shorten an inmate’s sentence or transfer inmates to local prisons. Efforts to address the crowding issue could include (1) reducing the inmate population by actions such as reforming sentencing laws, (2) increasing capacity by actions such as constructing new prisons, or (3) some combination of both.

The United States Sentencing Commission annually accepts public comments concerning its proposed priorities for the upcoming amendment year. Many organizations, such as the Commission’s Practitioners’ Advisory Group, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Federal Public and Community Defenders and Families Against Mandatory Minimums, regularly submit comments. So too does the Department of Justice (DOJ). From the DOJ’s most recent submission comes this:

The question our country faces today is how can we continue to build on our success in combating crime and ensuring the fair and effective administration of justice in a time of limited criminal justice resources at all levels of government? In other words, how will the country ensure sufficient investments in public safety, and how will those involved in crime policy ensure that every dollar invested in public safety is spent in the most productive way possible?

 

With declining public safety budgets, our ability to increase the productivity of public safety spending of all kinds will largely determine whether we build on the reductions in crime we’ve experienced over the last twenty years or whether we see setbacks. Our federal, state, and local governments are making decisions now that could have significant effects on the nation’s justice system for years to come.

 

The federal prison population has increased “from 24,252 in 1980” to more than 217,000 today, making the Bureau of Prisons the nation’s largest correctional system. Of course, more prisoners means more prisons. The BOP operates 117 institutions and anticipates activating two more in the next year: the secure female facility in Aliceville, AL and FCI Berlin, NH. As highlighted by a New Hampshire Union Leader articleconcerning a job fair held yesterday for the Berlin facility, prisons have sadly become economic engines for some local economies:

The Federal Bureau of Prisons job fair at New Hampshire Employment Security in Berlin drew more than 50 interested job seekers from all over New Hampshire.
‘This crowd made us happy,’ said Diana Nelson, employer services representative for New Hampshire Employment Security. ‘I don’t think any of us expected this. I think people want to talk to real, live people from the talent team and the Bureau of Prisons.’[…]

Continuing with the theme of the Bureau of Prisons’ seeming disregard for prisoners’ proximity to family and loved ones, as well as the ongoing problem of overcrowding, is this New York Times editorial concerning the new women’s facility in Aliceville, Alabama.

But for many of the prisoners, the rural isolation of this expensive facility will hurt their chances of returning permanently to their families and communities after doing their time. Though it is the newest federal prison for women, Aliceville does not reflect the latest thinking about criminal justice policy for incarceration of women.
Experts have long argued that prisoners should be located within a reasonable distance of their families so they can keep connections with their children. Encouraging those connections benefits the criminal justice system by reducing the odds that a prisoner will end up back in prison after she is released. The location of the Aliceville prison works against these goals.[…]

Seasoned federal practitioners may recall a time, not so long ago, when the designation of federal offenders was largely a local affair. Community Corrections Offices would process designation packages of newly sentenced defendants and forward placement recommendations to the Regional Designator for final approval. That design ended around early 2006 with the activation of the Designation and Sentence Computation Center (DSCC) in Grand Prairie, Texas, which centralized and consolidated the designation process. Designation teams divided by referring district court(s) have assumed the Community Corrections Office role, and a team of designators (Hotel Team) serves the Regional Designator function.


While the DSCC has certain efficiencies that, among other things, have resulted in a substantial reduction in the average time to complete an initial designation, there appears to be a growing trend of the BOP placing prisoners far from home, well beyond the 500-mile radius from release residence that has historically guided placement. Said differently, with increasing frequency there are reports of prisoners being designated dispersedly throughout the country. There is no official explanation for this trend. However, several considerations seem relevant.

Overcrowding is no doubt a factor. According to the Bureau’s FY 2013 Congressional Budget—Buildings and Facilities:

Justia Lawyer Rating
Super Lawyers Badge
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Badge
Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association