Expected steady growth in the federal prison population could mean a total of more than 216,000 by the year 2010, Harley Lappin, the new Bureau of Prisons director, said today. Federal facilities held only 25,600 prisoners in 1980. Now, each of six administrative regions of the prison bureau incarcerates more than that number.
While the population of some state prison systems has stabilized or declined, an additional 9,000 federal inmates is likely in each of the next few years, Lappin told the National Committee on Community Corrections. There are about 172,000 inmates now.
Unlike the situation in some states, Congress has given the federal system enough funds to keep building. Three institutions will open this year, one in California and two in Kentucky, and a record-setting nine are scheduled to open next year.
Alluding to budget pressures, Lappin said that his bureau’s challenge will be “continued growth with diminished resources.” Lappin has been federal prison director since April; he was warden of the federal prison at Terre Haute, In., when Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed.
Another challenge is maintaining federal prison industries in which inmates provide products or services, Lappin said. Critics charge that the program has grown too large, depriving non-prison companies of business, particularly in furniture and textiles. Lappin wants to change the emphasis from manufacturing to serving government agencies. He cited as a model a “fleet maintenance” program of repairing vehicles operated by the U.S. Border Patrol.
Having more prisoners work has a “significant impact on recidivism,” Lappin said. A study found that 24 percent fewer inmates who had held “industries” jobs committed new offenses and returned to prison than did prisoners who did not participate. Lappin wants at least one fourth of federal inmates in the program, but the total now is 21 percent because 2,000 jobs have been lost recently.
On another subject, Lappin pledged to continue using “halfway houses” as a transition between incarceration and convicts’ return to communities. More than 70 percent of federal inmates are housed in such facilities at some point.
Last December, the Justice Department issued a legal opinion barring judges from sending convicts directly to halfway houses, saying that a prison term must be served in a secure facility. Lappin said this did not reduce his agency’s commitment to using halfway houses. For the most part, convicts can be successfully incarcerated in traditional prisons, he said. One challenge has been how to handle pregnant inmates. In the last year, about 150 pregnant women have been sent to federal prisons.