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The Federal Prison Population Buildup: Overview, Policy Changes, Issues, and Options

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“Since the early 1980s, there has been a historically unprecedented increase in the federal prison population. Some of the growth is attributable to changes in federal criminal justice policy during the previous three decades. An issue before Congress is whether policymakers consider the rate of growth in the federal prison population sustainable, and if not, what changes could be made to federal criminal justice policy to reduce the prison population while maintaining public safety. This report explores the issues related to the growing federal prison” (p. i). Sections of this report following a summary are: introduction; federal prison population-conviction offense for federal inmates, and length of sentences for federal offenders; policy changes that contributed to prison population growth-mandatory minimum sentences, federalization of crime, and eliminating parole for federal inmates; issues related to prison population growth-cost of operating the system, prison overcrowding, inmate-to-staff ratio, and prison construction and maintenance; select policy options-continuing or expanding current correctional policies (expanding the capacity of the system, investing in rehabilitative programs, and placing more inmates in private prisons), and changing existing correctional and sentencing policies to reduce prison population-changes to mandatory minimum penalties, alternatives to incarceration, early release measures, modifying the “safety valve” provision, and repealing federal criminal statutes for some offenses; and conclusion.