Back to top

Federal prison system

“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

“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.

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

"After decades of unbridled growth in its prison population, the United States faces a defining moment. There is broad, bipartisan agreement that the costs of incarceration have far outweighed the benefits, and that our country has largely failed to meet the goals of a well-functioning justice system: to enhance public safety, to prevent future victimization, and to rehabilitate those who have engaged in criminal acts. Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that our over-reliance on incarceration may in fact undermine efforts to keep the public safe. Momentum is strong for a new direction, for a criminal justice system guided by proven, cost-effective strategies that reduce crime and restore lives. But translating this impulse for reform into lasting change is no small challenge. This report provides both an urgent call to action and a roadmap for reforming the federal prison system, which, with 197,000 people behind bars, was the largest in the nation as 2015 drew to a close. By adopting the recommendations detailed here, and committing sufficient resources to ensure their effectiveness, we can reduce the federal prison population by 60,000 people over the coming years and achieve savings of over $5 billion, allowing for reinvestment in programs proven to reduce crime. Most important, these proposed reforms and savings can be achieved through evidence-based policies that protect public safety. Such savings will not only bring fiscal responsibility to a policy area long plagued by the opposite tendency, but will also free critical funds the US Department of Justice (DOJ) needs for other priorities, such as national security, state and local law enforcement, and victim assistance. And just as critically, these reforms will make our communities safer by ensuring we send the right people to prison and that they return to society with the skills, supervision, and support they need to stay crime free" (p. ix). Sections comprising this report include: the transformation of the federal corrections system—who the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is, federal sentencing reform in the 1980s, the abolition of parole and the increase in time served, policy changes driving BOP growth, consequences due to growth, and the new path; Recommendation 1—Reserve Prison for Those Convicted of the Most Serious Federal Crimes; Recommendation 2—Promote a Culture of Safety and Rehabilitation in Federal Facilities; Recommendation 3—Incentivize Participation in Risk-Reduction Programming; Recommendation 4—Ensure Successful Reintegration by Using Evidence-Based Practices in Supervision and Support; Recommendation 5—Enhance System Performance and Accountability through Better Coordination across Agencies and Increased Transparency; and Recommendation 6—Reinvest Savings to Support the Expansion of Necessary Programs, Supervision, and Treatment.

Transforming Prisons, Restoring Lives: Final Recommendations of the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections Cover

There is no doubt that "there are occasions when correctional officials have no choice but to segregate inmates from the general population, typically when it is the only way to ensure the safety of inmates, staff, and the public and the orderly operation of the facility. But as a matter of policy, we believe strongly this practice should be used rarely, applied fairly, and subjected to reasonable constraints. The Department believes that best practices include housing inmates in the least restrictive settings necessary to ensure their own safety, as well as the safety of staff, other inmates, and the public; and ensuring that restrictions on an inmate’s housing serve a specific penological purpose and are imposed for no longer than necessary to achieve that purpose. When officials determine that an inmate must be segregated from the general population, that inmate should be housed in safe, humane conditions that, ideally, prepare the individual for reintegration into both the general prison population and society at large. The stakes are high. Life in restrictive housing has been well-documented—by inmates, advocates and, on occasion, correctional officials themselves. In some systems, the conditions can be severe; the social isolation, extreme. At its worst, and when applied without regard to basic standards of decency, restrictive housing can cause serious, long-lasting harm. It is the responsibility of all governments to ensure that this practice is used only as necessary—and never as a default solution. But just as we must consider the impact on inmates, so too must we consider the impact on correctional staff. These public servants work hard, often for long hours and under difficult conditions, and we must protect them from unreasonable danger. Correctional officers need effective tools to manage the most challenging inmates and protect the most vulnerable. We do not believe that the humane treatment of inmates and the safety of correctional staff are mutually exclusive; indeed, neither is possible without the other. In recent years, numerous correctional systems have succeeded in safely reducing the number of inmates in restrictive housing, including the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Over the past four years, the total number of inmates in the Bureau’s restrictive housing units has declined by nearly a quarter. Under the leadership of its outgoing Director, Charles E. Samuels, Jr., the Bureau has also developed a range of progressive alternatives to restrictive housing—and has done so while supporting and enhancing staff safety. This Report includes a number of additional policy proposals that would help continue the downward trends in the Bureau’s restrictive housing population, while also ensuring that those placed in segregation receive the support and rehabilitative services they need" (p. 1-2). This report is divided into three parts. Part One—Restrictive Housing in the Federal Bureau of Prisons: overview of restrictive housing in the United States; Special Housing Units (SHU); Special Management Units (SMU); USP Administrative Maximum (ADX); Bureau Inmates Requiring Special Considerations; Inmates with Serious Mental Illness (SMI); Inmates with Medical Needs; Young Adults (Age 18-24 at Time of Conviction); Juveniles (Under 18 at Time of Adjudication); and Audits of the Bureau's Restrictive Housing Programs ()CAN Audit, GAO Audit, and BOP Internal Audits). Part Two—Restrictive Housing in Other Correctional and Detention Systems: United States Marshals Service (USMS); Restrictive Housing in the States; Federal Support for State and Local Efforts; Federal Civil Rights Enforcement; and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Part Three—Guiding Principles and Policy Recommendations: Guiding Principles; Policy Recommendations for the Bureau of Prisons, National Institute of Corrections (NIC), and the U.S. Office of Justice Programs (OJP)—Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), and the National Institute of Justice (NIJ); and Additional Policy Recommendation for Diverting Inmates with Serious Mental Illness from Incarceration. Documents making up the appendix are organized into Federal Bureau of Prison's Program Statements, Institution Supplements, audits and reports, and other documents.

U.S. Department of Justice Report and Recommendations Concerning the Use of Restrictive Housing Cover

Although youthful offenders account for about 18 percent of all federal offenders sentenced between fiscal years 2010 and 2015, there is little current information published about them. In this publication, the United States Sentencing Commission presents information about youthful offenders, who for purposes of this report are defined as persons age 25 or younger at the time they are sentenced in the federal system (p. 1).

Pages

Subscribe to Federal prison system