« "Polanski lawyers appeal, demand sentencing in absence" | Main | Questions about the "when" and "now what" for crack/powder sentencing reform »

March 19, 2010

Growth and costs of federal prisons lamented in House hearing

As detailed in this Courthouse News Service report, which is headlined "Prisons Swollen by Foreigners, Druggies," the size and nature of the national (and federal) prison population was a topic of discussion during a House hearing yesterday.  Here are some of the particulars:

The U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other nation while the federal prison population  half of it made up of drug offenders  is swollen by growing numbers of women and foreign inmates.  They are stretching the seams of institutions that are nearly 40 percent over capacity, said prison director Harley Lappin.  At a Thursday hearing, Committee Chairman Alan Mollohan asked, "Where in the world are you going to put these people?"

The federal government holds 210,000 people in prison. Roughly 18 percent of the inmates are housed in private prisons run by contractors. The other 172,000 inmates are squeezed into government facilities that only have a listed capacity of 126,000 beds, which means the buildings hold 37 percent more prisoners than their designs allow.

In his testimony on Thursday, prison director Harley Lappin said the prison population is expected to grow by an additional 7,000 members next year.

"It's clear that the bureau of prisons is heading down an unsustainable path," West Virginia Democrat Mollohan said as chair of the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee as it reviews the Federal Prison Bureau's fiscal year 2011 $6.1 billion budget request, which is roughly $6 million more than this year's budget.

The United States already imprisons more people per capita than any other nation and its prison population continued to grow by 7,091 inmates in 2009, with 7,000 more expected by the end of this year, and again next year.  Each inmate costs taxpayers $27,000 a year.

"We're number one. That's not very good," Virginia Ranking Member Frank Wolf said. Lappin said the phenomenon is "tragic" and blamed the growth on a variety of factors, pointing to the exponential growth in women prisoners as one.  They currently make up 6.5 percent of the prison population.

The United States has also seen a 45 percent increase in the last two years of people booked for immigration crimes and Lappin noted that countries like Vietnam and Cuba refuse to take back their convicted citizens, leaving the United States to hold the foreigners indefinitely.  More than a quarter of the federal prisoners are non-citizens, numbering 55,000.

March 19, 2010 at 09:33 AM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Growth and costs of federal prisons lamented in House hearing:


That's quite a headline from CNS! Similar stats came out in testimony at the US Sentencing Commission last fall, see Lappin’s comments here.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Mar 19, 2010 9:40:29 AM

Long sentences + no parole = overcrowed jails.

Posted by: J | Mar 19, 2010 12:03:12 PM

J almost said it all...Plus long supervised release and half come back. Not just for a short stay, but for the entire length of their release, even if they've been out for 2/3 of it...Breathe wrong into the wind and your release is revoked..

Posted by: Goodyr | Mar 19, 2010 2:38:50 PM

Goodyr: You couldn't be more inaccurate.

1)Only the most serious of violators are returned to prison. There are a series of interventions short of recommitting e.g. official reprimands, treatment referrals, home detention, halfway house placement, etc. Much less than half supervised release violators return to prison.

2) Violators are not automatically returned for the remainder of their term. There is a gradation of violations with advisory guidelines for each level. Many violators are returned for six months or less.

Posted by: mjs | Mar 19, 2010 2:52:10 PM

Concerning the incarceration of illegal aliens, how do people feel about paying the country of citizenship to imprision those individuals, if it could be done at a much less cost than the U.S. does it? There would have to be assurances on the lenght and conditions of incarceration (as well as oversight), but if that can be negotiated and it saves money, it my an idea worth trying. Especially if that is where the person will be deported to after he is released.

See also http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/california-politics/2010/01/schwarzenegger-send-prisoners-to-mexico.html

Posted by: question | Mar 19, 2010 3:10:23 PM

When prisoners are returned to their own country to complete a sentence they are no longer under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Justice.. They can and are released or held, but the US sentence is no longer the determining factor.

The US frequently does not respect the stipulations put on extradition orders by foreign countries either. Sovereign countries are - well Sovereign.

Posted by: beth | Mar 20, 2010 8:14:23 PM

If the average criminal commits a crime a week, and each crime causes $10,000 in damage, the return on investment of the average prison sentence is the best investment in the world. Prison pays better than even crime.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Mar 21, 2010 5:21:16 AM

The problem most peope are (justifiably) concerned about is not too many inmates but too many criminals.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 21, 2010 2:53:15 PM

Too many criminals may be produced by too much law. If we reinstated alcohol prohibition we could have many more criminals to be concerned about

Posted by: beth | Mar 21, 2010 3:16:13 PM

Love how Mr. Lappin refers to prisoners as "members" of the BOP. I'm sure many would like to cancel
their memberships due to inadequate services!! The prison-industrial complex is going to be the ruin of our nation - taking money from education, health care, etc. There are way too many people incarcerated who could be monitored with GPS tracking and treatment requirements at much less cost - both monetary cost and cost to their families. The children of these prisoners see the reality and when they become adults, hopefully they will spearhead some changes.

Posted by: Zelda | Mar 22, 2010 2:03:23 PM

There would have to be assurances on the lenght and conditions of incarceration (as well as oversight), but if that can be negotiated and it saves money, it my an idea worth trying.

Posted by: cheap cialis | Apr 6, 2010 8:52:31 AM

When prisoners are returned to their own country to complete a sentence they are no longer under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Justice..

Posted by: buy viagra online | Apr 6, 2010 8:54:38 AM

Any time prisoners are taken back to his or her nation to finish a sentence they're just no more within the legal system of the US Department of Justice..

Posted by: low carb stores | Aug 9, 2010 2:24:45 AM

I'am looking for a web site to how much the government spends on It's prisoners threw a break down list such as food security etc ?

Posted by: johnny blaze | Aug 25, 2010 2:04:49 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB