The U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other nation while the federal prison population — half of it made up of drug offenders — is swollen by growing numbers of women and foreign inmates. Courthouse News says they are stretching the seams of institutions that are nearly 40 percent over-capacity. At an appropriations hearing in Congress yesterday, Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) asked federal prison director Harley Lappin, “Where in the world are you going to put these people?”
The federal government holds 210,000 inmates, 18 percent of them in private prisons. The others are squeezed into government facilities that only have a listed capacity of 126,000 beds, which means the buildings hold 37 percent more prisoners than their designs allow. Lappin said the prison population is expected to grow by an additional 7,000 members in the next year. “It’s clear that the bureau of prisons is heading down an unsustainable path,” said Mollohan. The U.S. has seen a 45 percent increase in the last two years of people booked for immigration crimes and Lappin noted that countries like Vietnam and Cuba refuse to take back their convicted citizens, leaving the U.S. to hold the foreigners indefinitely. More than a quarter of the federal prisoners are non-citizens, numbering 55,000. Lappin said crowding is hampering re-entry programs that teach inmates job and life skills, and that it has led to increased violence among inmates who were double-bunking and who are now triple-bunking in rooms meant for one prisoner.