What Will it Take to Reduce the Federal Prison Population?


If the U.S. government does not take any measures to reform the federal prison system—the largest jailer in the nation—its inmate population is expected to reach 206,184 by 2023, according to an interactive web tool released today by the Urban Institute and the Charles Colson Task Force on Federal Corrections. The tool uses data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons and recent criminal justice policy changes to calculate the potential impact of future policies on the federal prison population.

For instance, reducing new admissions to prison for drug trafficking offenses by 50 percent would bring the federal prison population down 17 percent by 2023, according to the forecaster tool. Reducing new admissions for immigration offenses by 50 percent would reduce the prison population by 4 percent.

The federal prison population—which stands at 205,795 as of this month—declined in 2013 and 2014 after decades of growth and is expected to drop another 4 percent through 2023, write authors Ryan King, Bryce Peterson, Brian Elderbroom and Samuel A. Taxy. But they say these projected reductions will not be enough to eliminate “severe overcrowding.”

“Congress and the president should also explore alternatives to prison if they want to meaningfully reduce the federal prison population,” the researchers write. “Reforms that address both drug trafficking and weapons offenses, especially through a mix of incarceration alternatives and shorter lengths of stay, will have the greatest impact.”

The new research does not analyze bills pending in Congress that could reduce federal prison population, but the compromise measure approved last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee would concentrate on reducing some mandatory prison terms and not on cutting overall sentences in any major way.

Read more about the research and use the forecaster tool HERE.

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