In an extensive assessment of the overcrowded federal prison system, the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Institute concludes that, “A smart combination of policies will save taxpayers billions, make prisons less dangerous, and improve the quality and reach of programs designed to keep inmates from offending again.” Unlike many state prison systems, where inmate population is stable or declining, federal institutions keep growing, with 219,000 inmates. Absent policy changes, the federal system would be 55 percent over capacity by 2023, the new report says.
The institute says, “The most effective way to reduce overcrowding is to lower mandatory minimums for drugs, which, alone, would reduce overcrowding to the lowest it has been in decades.” The federal Bureau of Prisons could save $3 billion with two additional changes: retroactively applying the recent federal law on crack cocaine sentences to inmates already in custody and giving more “earned time credit” for taking part in prison programs. Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a rare hearing on federal prison issues. Key changes highlighted by the institute would require approval by Congress.