Back to top

Samuel A. Taxy

"The federal prison population has grown by 750 percent since 1980, resulting in rapidly increasing expenditures for incarceration and dangerous overcrowding. In response, Congress created the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections to examine trends in correctional growth and develop practical, data-driven policy responses" (p. 1). The biggest driver of this growth is the population of drug offenders doubling in the last 20 years. This increase is compounded by the length of their sentences. While the number of imprisoned drug offenders has been fairly constant, the population has increased due to these offenders serving longer statutory mandatory minimum penalties.

Drivers of Growth in the Federal Prison Population Cover

This Special Report presents "a description of drug offenders in federal prison, including criminal history, demographics, gun involvement in the offense, and sentence imposed. The report examines each characteristics by type of drug involved in the offense. It also examines demographic information for the entire federally sentenced population and discusses alternative methods for defining drug offenders. Data are from a linked file created with data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and United States Sentencing Commission. Highlights: This study is based on 94,678 offenders in federal prison at fiscal yearend 2012 who were sentenced on a new U.S. district court commitment and whose most serious offense (as classified by the Federal Bureau of Prisons) was a drug offense; Almost all (99.5%) drug offenders in federal prison were serving sentences for drug trafficking; Cocaine (powder or crack) was the primary drug type for more than half (54%) of drug offenders in federal prison; Race of drug offenders varied greatly by drug type. Blacks were 88% of crack cocaine offenders, Hispanics or Latinos were 54% of powder cocaine offenders, and whites were 48% of methamphetamine offenders; [and] More than a third (35%) of drug offenders in federal prison at sentencing, had either no or minimal criminal history."

Drug Offenders in Federal Prisons: Estimates of Characteristics Based on Linked Data Cover

“The federal prison population has risen dramatically over the past few decades, as more people are sentenced to prison and for longer terms. The result? Dangerously overcrowded facilities and an increasing expense to taxpayers. In [this] new Urban Institute report, the authors project the population and cost savings impact of a variety of strategies designed to reduce the inmate population without compromising public safety. They find that the most effective approach is a combination of strategies, including early release for current prisoners and reducing the length of stay for future offenders, particularly those convicted of drug trafficking.” Sections of this publication following an executive summary include: introduction to the impact of federal prison growth; understanding the federal prison population and drivers of growth—the main drivers being who goes to prison and for how long; policy options to ease growth and reduce costs—front-end changes and back-end changes; and conclusion.

Stemming the Tide Cover

"The federal prison system is by far the nation’s single largest jailer, with a total of 205,795 inmates at the beginning of October 2015. That’s roughly 50,000 more people in custody than in the second-largest prison jurisdiction, Texas. Though the states collectively incarcerate the majority of people in prison in the United States—nearly 1.4 million as of 2014—any conversation about mass incarceration must consider the federal prison population. The growth, size, and cost of the federal system jeopardize the safety and security of inmates and staff, restrict the ability to provide programs designed to reduce recidivism, and crowd out other fiscal priorities … [this Forecaster] uses Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) data and incorporates trends and recent changes in the federal criminal justice system to forecast population trends and the impact of changes to rates of admission or lengths of stay. This tool is designed to highlight the unique drivers of the federal prison population and the types of policy changes that will be necessary to reduce the BOP population. All numbers reported in this feature (unless otherwise noted) are from the end of fiscal year 2014, and all projections are of impacts through 2023.

The Prison Population Forecaster // Federal Prison Population Cover

"Almost half of the 195,809 federally sentenced individuals in the Bureau of Prisons are serving time for drug trafficking offenses, but little is known about their criminal histories or the nature of their offenses. This brief examines both, finding that many people in federal prison for drug crimes have minimal or no criminal histories, and most were not convicted of violent or leading roles. Nonetheless, many serve long prison sentences due to mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Lasting reductions in the size of the federal prison population will require big cuts in length of stay for drug offenses" (home page). Sections of this brief cover: many drug offenders housed in federal prisons have little to no criminal histories; few are convicted of leading trafficking organizations or responsible for violent acts during drug trafficking crimes; long federal sentences are driven by mandatory minimums; and continued federal prison population reductions require shorter drug sentences.

Who Gets Time for Federal Drug Offenses? Data Trends and Opportunities for Reform cover
Subscribe to Samuel A. Taxy