Why Federal Prison Population May Not Drop Despite Holder’s Policy Changes


The federal prison population will keep rising despite Attorney General Eric Holder's announcement of policy changes aimed at limiting incarceration of some drug defendants, Walter Pavlo writes for Forbes.com. Pavlo cites several reasons. One is that “there is a lot of money in incarcerating people.” He notes that a new women’s prison in Aliceville, Al., cost $250 million “and is hauling women in to fill its cells.” A new men's prison opened in Berlin, NH, “amid boasts of job fairs and prison tours.” Federal prosecutors make a name for themselves by bringing cases that make headlines–cases with long prison terms. Even if an inmate's term is cut, there are not enough halfway houses. The 2008 federal Second Chance Act allowed the Bureau of Prisons to give inmates a year in a halfway house. Most get only a few months.

Since the Second Chance Act was signed by President Bush, the federal inmate population has increased by over 10,000. Pavlo says that when lower prison terms are offered to first time non-violent offenders, there will be less incentive for one defendant to snitch on another. As it stands now, telling on another person for their involvement in a drug crime to get a lower sentence is understandable when facing a decades in prison. For 3-5 years, a paltry sentence for a drug crime, it might serve a person better to keep quiet and serve the time in order to live a “quieter” life when they return home. This could result in people actually going to prison longer than they would have had they cooperated against others.

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