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New Urban Institute Report Highlights Causes and Consequences of Federal Prison Growth: Questions Raised about Impact on Other Public Safety Priorities

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Document date: December 11, 2012
Released online: December 11, 2012

Abstract

A new report by the Urban Institute‚??s Justice Policy Center highlights the increasing size of the federal prison system, leading to unsustainable cost growth and more dangerous conditions inside prison walls. The increased costs of incarceration also run the risk of edging out support for other important public safety priorities.


Contact: Matthew Johnson, (202) 261-5723, mjohnson@urban.org

WASHINGTON, D.C., December 11, 2012 — A new report by the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center highlights the increasing size of the federal prison system, leading to unsustainable cost growth and more dangerous conditions inside prison walls. The increased costs of incarceration also run the risk of edging out support for other important public safety priorities.

The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions states that federal prisons currently house 218,000 inmates, which is almost ten times the number incarcerated in 1980. Drug offenders make up more than half of the prison population, and the length of drug offender sentences is a major driver of population growth and prison costs.

“Overcrowded prisons do more than just jeopardize the safety of prisoners and staff: they also restrict the ability to offer rehabilitative programs designed to reduce reoffending,” noted Nancy La Vigne, director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center and a lead author of the paper.

The White House requested $6.9 billion to fund the Bureau of Prisons in fiscal 2013, roughly a quarter of the total discretionary funding requested for the Department of Justice. If current financial trends continue, the bureau’s share of the department’s budget would increase to 30 percent by 2020.

“With federal spending reductions on the horizon and fast-growing prison costs, the U.S. Department of Justice’s other public safety priorities—such as support for federal investigators, prosecutors, and state and local partners—risk falling by the wayside,” said Julie Samuels, a coauthor of the study.

In the report, the authors note that state justice systems demonstrate useful examples of how to trim spending without detracting from public safety. Adjusting sentencing practices and prison release policies for drug offenders, for example, could alleviate some stress on the federal prison system.

"This report demonstrates the need to address the safety and cost issues caused by the growth of the federal prison population. Republicans and Democrats in Congress and in the administration need to come together to address this issue in a bipartisan effort," said Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Appropriations Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

“The unsustainable growth in federal prison costs is crowding out other law enforcement priorities. I welcome this new, important report, which shows the need for common sense reforms that protect the public safety while minimizing corrections costs for taxpayers,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee.

The Growth & Increasing Cost of the Federal Prison System: Drivers and Potential Solutions was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation. For more research on federal prison systems, visit the Justice Policy Center online.

The Urban Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and educational organization that examines the social, economic, and governance challenges facing the nation. It provides information, analyses, and perspectives to public and private decisionmakers to help them address these problems and strives to deepen citizens’ understanding of the issues and trade-offs that policymakers face.



Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice | Economy/Taxes


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