Excellent New Urban Institute Report

Yesterday, the Urban Institute issued “Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System,” an excellent, comprehensive report offering sensible solutions to the many problems that plague the Bureau of Prisons and the sentencing system that propels its unabated growth. From the report:

BOP facilities are currently operating at between 35 and 40 percent above their rated capacity; this overcrowding is greater in high-security facilities, which in FY 2012 were operating at 51 percent over capacity, with medium-security facilities 47 percent above capacity. The capacity of BOP facilities in 2012 was 128,359, but BOP-operated facilities housed 177,556 inmates in 2012. Since FY 2000, the inmate-to-staff ratio will have increased from about four to one to a projected five to one in FY 2014.

This untenable status quo will be the norm for the coming decade: BOP projects that, through 2020, federal prisons will be overcrowded by at least 33 percent, with the population exceeding system capacity by at least 50,000 people each year. The BOP anticipates adding over 25,000 beds by 2020, but most of these projects have not yet been approved, and would not substantially reduce overcrowding.[…]

The President’s FY 2014 budget request for BOP totals $6.9 billion, reflecting an increase of $310 million (4.7 percent) from the FY 2012 enacted budget. These additional funds will backfill currently open positions, enabling recently completed prisons to operate and, to a limited degree, expand inmate programming. However, these changes will not have any substantial or sustainable impact on the overcrowding or inmate-to-staff ratio trends.

The requested BOP budget for FY 2014 accounts for over 25 percent of the total DOJ budget request. As indicated in Figure 6, if present trends continue, the BOP will continue to consume more of the DOJ budget, approaching 30 percent in 2020. In these fiscally lean times, funding the expanding BOP population crowds out other priorities, including federal investigators, federal prosecutors, and support for state and local governments. This situation is projected to continue into the future, but it is unclear to what extent budget sequestration may exacerbate or decelerate these trends.

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