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July 31, 2007

Prison overcrowding creates shipping issues

31prisons_graphic Today's New York Times has this important article, entitled "States Export Their Inmates as Prisons Fill," documenting some of the notable consequences of overcrowded state prisons.  Here are excerpts:

Chronic prison overcrowding has corrections officials in Hawaii and at least seven other states looking increasingly across state lines for scarce prison beds, usually in prisons run by private companies.  Facing a court mandate, California last week transferred 40 inmates to Mississippi and has plans for at least 8,000 to be sent out of state.

The long-distance arrangements account for a small fraction of the country’s total prison population — about 10,000 inmates, federal officials estimate — but corrections officials in states with the most crowded prisons say the numbers are growing.  One private prison company that houses inmates both in-state and out of state, the Corrections Corporation of America, announced last year that it would spend $213 million on construction and renovation projects for 5,000 prisoners by next year....

But while the out-of-state transfers are helping states that have been unwilling, or too slow, to build enough prisons of their own, they have also raised concerns among some corrections officials about excessive prisoner churn, consistency among the private vendors and safety in some prisons.

Moving inmates from prison to prison disrupts training and rehabilitation programs and puts stress on tenuous family bonds, corrections officials say, making it more difficult to break the cycle of inmates committing new crimes after their release.  Several recidivism studies have found that convicts who keep in touch with family members through visits and phone privileges are less likely to violate their parole or commit new offenses.  There have been no studies that focused specifically on out-of-state placements.

July 31, 2007 at 07:37 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Does anyone know what the current state of overcrowding is in the federal system? I know its not as bad as the states, but I'm sure it has its own issues.

Posted by: DAG | Jul 31, 2007 9:24:06 AM

DAG

That is a good question and I tried to find out how many federal prisoners were in state prisons and county jails and my requests for information were ignored. One of the issues is what is the definition of federal prisoner? Federal pretrial detainees are often held in county jails in the county the federal courthouse is located. In a large city there may be a federal detention center.

Some federal prisoners are incarcerated in state prisons to be near their families if there is no federal prison in the state. INS detainees are often held in county jails and state prisons because the feds are willing to pay more than the standard rate to lease jail and prison beds. Some greedy county supervisors think they can make money leasing jail beds to the feds but for that to happen they have to be near a federal courthouse.

The federal BOP probably knows how many of their prisoners are farmed out to state prisons but they they would have no idea how many pretrial and INS detainees there are. The federal marshals service would know how many pretrial detainees are under their jurisdiction but they may not keep national totals. INS was screwed up before they became part of homeland security and I don't think that helped so I am not optimistic about finding out how many folks they are detaining.

Posted by: JSN | Jul 31, 2007 10:37:07 AM

DAG

That is a good question and I tried to find out how many federal prisoners were in state prisons and county jails and my requests for information were ignored. One of the issues is what is the definition of federal prisoner? Federal pretrial detainees are often held in county jails in the county the federal courthouse is located. In a large city there may be a federal detention center.

Some federal prisoners are incarcerated in state prisons to be near their families if there is no federal prison in the state. INS detainees are often held in county jails and state prisons because the feds are willing to pay more than the standard rate to lease jail and prison beds. Some greedy county supervisors think they can make money leasing jail beds to the feds but for that to happen they have to be near a federal courthouse.

The federal BOP probably knows how many of their prisoners are farmed out to state prisons but they they would have no idea how many pretrial and INS detainees there are. The federal marshals service would know how many pretrial detainees are under their jurisdiction but they may not keep national totals. INS was screwed up before they became part of homeland security and I don't think that helped so I am not optimistic about finding out how many folks they are detaining.

Posted by: JSN | Jul 31, 2007 10:37:21 AM

What happens to these folks upon release? Are they taken back to their home state at state's expense or given the typical hundred backs and a pat on the back?

Posted by: JustClerk | Jul 31, 2007 2:55:12 PM

There are reentry programs for inmates about to be released from prison, but
such programs have a low budgetary priority and when the prisons become crowded security sucks up every available dollar and reentry programs become nearly empty shells. Unless there is a reciprocal agreement (and there might be one because there are interstate agreements) a state correction system will probably not pay reentry cost for a federal prisoner. Common sense suggests that if a federal prisoner is in a state prison so they can be near their family (it is a good idea to make it possible for the family to visit because it helps reduce recidivism) they would be released there, but bureaucracies don't seem to operate that way.

Our DOC is pretty blunt about it their priorities are public, staff and inmate safety in that order and treatment, education and reentry are pretty far down the list of priorities.

Posted by: JSN | Jul 31, 2007 6:29:40 PM

Does out of state transfer place it under federal law under the commerce clause? In other words, do or should federal prison laws and standards apply?

Posted by: George | Jul 31, 2007 7:45:06 PM

If you want federal grant money you have to abide by federal standards for building jails and prisons. I am not aware of a program of regular inspections of state prisons. On occasion my DOC will ask for federal experts to inspect a facility/program and make recommendations. A county Sheriff can also request a review by the National Institute of Corrections a department of the DOJ. The state jail inspector can order the Sheriff to meet state standards which may be based on federal standards. In our state the jail inspector can cap the population or even order a jail closed if conditions are bad enough. It is also possible for a jail or prison system to be certified by a professional organization.

A commercial prison probably has to meet the standards of the state where it is located. The idea of federal regulation of a commercial prison by the Commerce Commission is new one as far as I am concerned. How would the Commerce Commission know if the prison was in violation of the federal standards? On the other hand I don't see how the feds could house federal prisoners in a facility that does not meet federal standards and that could be the carrot.

Posted by: JSN | Jul 31, 2007 9:03:54 PM

Thanks for the thoughts, JSN. Say a state prisoner in California is transferred out of state, maybe against his will, maybe not. Crime and state prisons are normally a state issue for state crimes; if, however, the incarceration entails an out of state transfer, maybe federal law comes into play and the prisoner can bypass the state courts where someone else still incarcerated in the state would have to exhaust civil remedies at the state level first. Or would Congress specifically have to draft and pass a law giving out of state prisoners federal standing though a state prisoner?

In short, is there a chance the states are giving up some of their federalism rights by transferring prisoners out of state?

Posted by: George | Jul 31, 2007 10:55:11 PM

I am a law intern at a federal defender's office.

Does anyone know where I can find the "federal standards" for housing that are refered to above. We want to compare them to our local jails where some of our clients are being held.

Thanks,

Posted by: jesse | Jun 30, 2008 3:37:56 PM

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