Funding for operating federal prisons could take up 30 percent of the Justice Department’s budget by 2020, signaling the need to rethink federal sentencing policy, argues a new report from the Urban Institute.
The facilities run by the Bureau of Prisons, which is part of the department, are overcrowded and understaffed, the report says. The federal prison system has seen a tenfold increase in inmates since 1980, and that number keeps inching forward, the report says. BOP is currently experiencing 55 percent overcrowding at high-security prisons, and the inmate-to-staff ratio has bumped from 4 to 1 to an estimated 5 to 1 in fiscal year 2013, the report states.
“A wide array of actors — members of Congress, administration officials, a bipartisan cast of policy advocates, and researchers — has concluded that this growth and its associated costs are unsustainable,” the report states. “The focus on this burgeoning population provides an opportunity to explore the drivers of population growth and costs and to develop options for stemming future growth that are consistent with public safety goals.”
The BOP budget for fiscal year 2013 constitutes 25 percent of the department’s budget. The report cautioned against its further growth.
“In these fiscally lean times, funding the expanding BOP population crowds out other priorities, including federal investigators and prosecutors and support for state and local governments,” it states.
Attorney General Eric Holder has been asked about prison reform during his visits to Capitol Hill. Last year, he touted $83 million in grants to organizations fighting recidivism in the federal prison system. He convened a group of top administration officials to discuss the issue or recidivism last year, as well.
The Urban Institute argues that the overcrowding issue lies with longer sentences assigned to drug offenders. Data shows that violators of drug laws made up about half of the prison population in 2010.