GAO Takes a Closer Look at Pre-Release Costs and the Elderly Offender Pilot Program

In February, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report, Bureau of Prisons: Eligibility and Capacity Impact Use of Flexibilities to Reduce Inmates’ Time in Prison, in response to a request that it address “(1) the extent to which BOP utilizes its authorities to reduce a federal prisoner’s period of incarceration; and (2) what factors, if any, impact BOP’s use of these authorities.” In April, the Federal Public and Community Defenders issued a reportanalyzing the GAO’s findings.

Last Friday, the GAO posted a letter and accompanying briefing prepared in response to further Congressional inquiry concerning “methods for estimating costs of housing inmates in BOP facilities, Residential Re-entry Centers (RRC), and home detention, as well as the evaluation of and results of the Elderly Offender Pilot Program (the Pilot) and any cost savings to the federal government.” Among other things, the GAO offers:

   The Bureau of Prisons underreports the cost of incarcerating prisoners at standard prison facilities (i.e., FPCs, FCIs, USPs) by not factoring in “construction of new prisons, modernization and repair (M&R) projects costing over $10,000, or depreciation of its existing facilities.”
   BOP officials offered that “property tax and a profit margin” factor into the rate that Residential Reentry Center operators charge, a cost the BOP does not reflect in the daily cost of incarcerating prisoners at standard prison facilities.
   The BOP disagrees with the GAO’s assessment that the BOP “does not know the exact cost of home detention. BOP stated that it knows the costs of home detention because it pays contractors a set rate of 50 percent of the cost for RRC beds.”**


   Whereas “BOP estimated that the Pilot achieved no costs savings,” the GAO observed that “[f]ew inmates were eligible” for the program due to admission criteria (71 of 855 applicants were admitted) and found that the “BOP’s evaluation of the Pilot and cost estimates that raise questions about the reliability of the evaluation for estimating future costs and informing policy decisions.”
   None of those 71 prisoners “re-offended or violated the terms of release to home detention.”
   BOP submitted that of “the estimated 231 offenders 65 years of age and older who have served the greater of 10 years or 75 percent of their sentences in fiscal year 2012,” “about 131” would be excluded from the Pilot “because of statutory prohibitions on participation of inmates who have been sentenced for a violent offense or sex offense or have a criminal history involving violent or sex offenses.”

**Notable about this assertion is (a) that pre-release inmates typically continue to pay for RRC beds even after they have been transitioned to home confinement; (b) that RRC “contractors will still not provide their actual costs;” and (c) that in many if not most districts the Probation Office supervises pre-release inmates on home confinement.

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