Federal Prisons Expect To House Two Percent More Inmates

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Englewood Federal Corrections Institute, Littleton, CO. Photo by Vetate Fumare via Flickr

The federal prison population is expected to grow next year by 4,171 to 191,493 as the Trump administration steps up prosecutions of illegal immigrants and drug offenders, reversing the trend toward a smaller prison population under former President Obama, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The two percent growth estimate in fiscal 2018 was in a Justice Department budget proposal, which also calls for 300 new federal prosecutors and 75 new immigration judges. The budget doesn’t detail the costs of the prison growth, but it is expected to be a boon to private prison companies, which are stepping up lobbying efforts for housing thousands of new inmates and immigrant detainees.

About 19 percent of federal inmates are in private prisons or re-entry centers, a proportion industry analysts say will increase because contractors have more beds available than federal facilities. Government-run prisons are 14 percent above capacity.

“This is an opportunity for private prisons, absolutely,” said Michael Kodesch, an analyst with Canaccord Genuity, a financial-services firm. Some senators are critical of the new Justice Department policy of tougher prosecution. Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky and Democrats Richard Durbin of Illinois and Cory Booker of New Jersey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week that, “In many cases, the new policy will result in counterproductive sentences that do nothing to make the public safer.’’

The anticipated increase in the federal-prison population contrasts with a growing bipartisan movement to reduce the number of people behind bars. In Louisiana, which imprisons more residents per capita than any other state and also has the highest murder rate, the Republican-led legislature this week approved a criminal-justice overhaul that will reduce sentences for a range of crimes and expand parole, probation and other alternatives to prison for nonviolent offenders.

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